A University of North Dakota survey using the strict guidelines of the Institutional Review Board shows that the university’s Fighting Sioux team name and logo has real effects on students.

Sparked by the controversy at UND, I developed a study based on the Indian mascot and logo issue. The study involved 132 UND students, 37 percent American Indian and 63 percent non-American-Indian.

The survey sought to determine the effects of the mascot and logo on the UND students, and to see if there was a relationship between the team name/logo and racism. Of all students surveyed, 96 percent believe racism is a problem in America, and 90 percent believe there is racial discrimination against American Indians to some extent. The survey also showed that 57 percent of American Indian students want the logos removed or banned, and that a greater portion of American Indian students have negative opinions of the logos than non-American-Indian students. Part of their reaction to the logos could be blamed on the behavior of non-American-Indian students at a March 25 “Fighting Sioux” anti-logo protest, when Native students at UND were verbally attacked with negative stereotypical racist names. Such behavior could certainly be deemed racist and abusive, as defined by the NCAA.

There has been considerable evidence supporting the results of the survey.

The Harvard Law Review says that racial insults are documented to cause psychological and physical harm. Indian team names and mascots have been charged with fostering “racial stereotyping,” causing low self-esteem among American Indians and setting up children as targets for physical harassment by their peers.

The American Psychological Association has found similar results. APA President Ronald F. Levant says, “The use of American Indian mascots as symbols in school and university athletic programs is particularly troubling. Schools and universities are places of learning. These mascots are teaching stereotypical, misleading and, too often, insulting images of American Indians. And these negative lessons are not just affecting American Indian students; they are sending the wrong message to all students.”

Psychologist Stephanie Fryberg of the University of Arizona has studied the impact of American Indian sports mascots on American Indian students as well as European American students. Her research shows the negative effect of such mascots on the self-esteem of American Indian students. “American Indian mascots are harmful not only because they are often negative, but because they remind American Indians of the limited ways in which others see them,” Fryberg says. “This in turn restricts the number of ways American Indians can see themselves.”

According to the many psychologists who have studied issues of race in America, the implications of the inappropriateness and potential harm of American Indian mascots are broader due to the history and treatment of American Indians. As such, Indian mascots are a contemporary example of prejudice by the dominant culture against racial and ethnic minority groups.

Racism can be defined as a belief in racial superiority, and American Indian children come to recognize and internalize it. The Indian mascots are a badge of inferiority because of the mockery and sometimes open ridicule. On the other hand, non-American-Indian children receive a subtle message that their culture is respected and therefore must be superior, which is a powerful and racist message.

Stereotypes are sets of beliefs that are held and recognized by large groups of people and are harmful because they deny, objectify and depersonalize individuality. Negative stereotypes can have adverse effects because they can be the basis for behaviors that lead to fear and curb social interaction with the dominant society. Children are aware of stereotypical depictions of different racial-ethnic groups.

These stereotypical beliefs could be the cause of some of the hate crimes documented by the Department of Justice, whose statistics show that an American Indian is four times more likely to be a victim of a violent crime by a person not of their race than any other racial or ethnic group. Indians are victims of hate crimes at a rate that is out of proportion to their numbers. The persistence of the Indian mascots and logos shows that negative stereotypical images of American Indians are still acceptable today.

However, behaviors that can be learned can also be unlearned. My mother made the issue clear and simple when she asked me, “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” What she was saying is that God speaks to us through our feelings.

Michael Eshkibok (meshkibok@yahoo.com) is a full-blooded Ojibwe and a doctoral candidate at the University of North Dakota’s School of Communications.

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