Is the demand for an end to the use of American Indian team names, mascots, and logos too trivial or divisive an issue for trade unionists and people of all races to support?

On the contrary, this practice has serious negative social and political consequences.

Sports fans have a strong attachment to the teams they support and the symbols associated with them, but have been generally oblivious to the racist implications of some symbols. The strongest influence, however, for continuing these racist practices comes from rich alumni, university administrations and team owners, who reap millions from licensing the racist logos.

Progressives of all races, including trade unionists, must not close their eyes to the struggle for the rights of American Indians to retain, defend and reinvigorate their cultures on their own terms.

Just as the struggle for African-American equality has been viewed as requiring special consideration in the overall struggle against racism because of the fact of slavery in this country, so too do the demands of American Indians require special consideration. American Indians have been targeted for genocide since the beginning of the European settlement of North America.

The systematic campaign to destroy the various Indian nations, both physically and culturally, requires action by all who cherish democracy to redress the injustices committed against the Indian peoples.

Why are reservations centers of poverty in the United States? Indians were confined to reservations on lands that generally would not allow economic, social or political self-determination. The U.S. government provided, and still provides, the minimal necessities for life, but on a sub-poverty level.

This destruction of their economic base was intended to erode the national sovereignty of the Indian peoples.

To limit further the Indian peoples ability to accumulate material resources from their own labor, a system of licensed non-Indian traders was established to siphon off any surplus that Indians might have accumulated from trade for their products.

Faced with the devastation of the economic foundations of their societies, American Indian peoples place great emphasis on the cultural and spiritual identities that bind them together in their fight for national survival and economic and civil rights. This accounts for the outpouring of support for the campaign against American Indian team names, mascots and logos among American Indians of all ages.

In Minnesota and the Dakotas, the issue of Indian team names unfolds in the context of racism generated by the big landowners and resort operators determined to deny the Indians treaty rights for land and access to hunting and fishing areas. Nor can we ignore the fact that racism, poverty, and the continuing cultural genocide put a disproportionate number of Indians in prison.

In South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota, Indians constitute 21 percent, 19 percent, and 7 percent of the state prison population, respectively, whereas they constitute 8 percent, 5 percent, and 1 percent of the general population of these states. The Sioux tribes object to being “honored” by team names like “Fighting Sioux” of the University of North Dakota (UND). They prefer to be honored for their rich, multifaceted, traditional culture marked by social relations of cooperation, democratic tribal structure, equality of the sexes, no violence against women or abuse of children, and absence of homophobia.

A leaflet prepared by the UND student group, BRIDGES, notes that people’s self-esteem “is shaped to a great extent by how they are portrayed by others.” The appropriation and mocking of religious practices and sacred symbols as sports entertainment promotes ideas of racial inferiority, stimulating racial slurs as well as physical attacks against Indians.

As with any racism, anti-Indian racism is allied with right-wing politics in general, strengthening the reactionary agenda against the working class in the state legislatures.

The United States Commission on Civil Rights sees the use of American Indian images and names by non-native sports teams as warranting condemnation. The North Dakota and Minnesota Indian Education Associations have passed resolutions demanding that the University of North Dakota change its team name.

The campaign by the National Coalition against Racism in Sports and the Media and the recently formed North Central Association of Faculty and Students to get the intercollegiate sports associations to ban these racist practices should be applauded.

The removal of all American Indian images and names from sports teams is an important area of struggle for economic and cultural survival of American Indians and is in the interest of all who are committed to economic justice and a country free of racism.