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Team Mascots
With Bobby Little Bear
Chairwoman, Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs

Tuesday, April 24,

The Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs has identified as many as 30 schools in Maryland that use mascots or team names that it considers "offensive, disrespectful, demeaning" to Native Americans and passed a resolution against the practice this year. (Read the article.)

Bobby Little Bear, a member of the Osage Nation, was elected chairwoman of the commission in August, and she has been a member of the panel since 1994. A charter member of the American Indian Intertribal Cultural Organization, Little Bear also is a member of the American Indian society of Washington.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

washingtonpost.com: Thanks for joining us today, Bobby Little Bear. What made you decide to join the fight against Indian team names and mascots?

Bobby Little Bear: Several years ago my Niece called me and asked why she didn't look like the pictures she saw on TV. She thought that meant she couldn't possibly be Osage. I had to explain about stereotypes. Then 17 months ago I had a daughter of my own. She already sees family photos of Grandpa in a war bonnet then watches TV to see a Redskins fan in a war bonnet and "pig nose". That told me I needed to say something.

Alexandria, Va.: American Indians have suffered many indignities over the past 400 years, and I do believe that the name of the Washington Football team should be changed, since the term is in and of itself a pejorative -- however, the tenacious character that is associated with certain groups, and therefore becomes a mascot is not insulting. Teams include the Vikings, the Packers, the Fighting Irish, and no one descended from these groups takes offense, rather they take pride in the fact that their ancestors have qualities that inspire people to win (as do Tigers, Eagles and Lions). Calling a team the Warriors, Braves or Indians is not an insult, rather it expresses admiration for the qualities possessed by American Indians. American Indians face many hardships, health issues, housing and education standards that are substandard. Change the name of the Washington football team, and then address the important problems facing American Indians.

Bobby Little Bear: Indeed, our children have and do suffer numerous injustices. One way to change that is to protect their self-esteem. Mascots reduce Native People to cartoon characters. All children, in their developing stages, are being shown Native People as fantasy figures and relating that image to Human Beings. Real, live Native People are not seen in the communities in which they live. Our children are not taken seriously by their peers and thus develop self esteem and identity problems. As we know, low self-esteem often leads to alcohol, drug and suicides, which are real health and welfare issues as well as education for both Native and non-Native. We have to help our children in every way we can, this is one positive step.

Arlington, VA: I suppose I just don't understand how using Indian references in sports teams names could be offensive. Sports teams are respected organizations. How is this offensive?

Bobby Little Bear: The terms such as "Indian" and "Brave" are not terms Native People use to identify themselves. This is a foreign language and thus often has a different meaning to Natives. Sure one team holds their mascot high with pride but it is also the deliberate target of the opposing team who takes great pride in humiliating, defacing and degrading the mascot. People are reduced to cartoons. And often one image is labeled as the symbolic representation for all Native People? There are more than 526 Federally recognized tribes in the U.S. We are all very different in language, traditions, culture, clothing, and more. so to try to batch us together in a stereotype perpetuates the myth and misconceptions we battle today. It is disrespectful to our culture and religion.

Arlington, VA: What if the name were for whatever tribe was originally associated with the Poolesville part of Maryland? It's historical, there's context, etc.

Also, if there are 30 different schools w/this problem, why is there such a big deal about one using the fairly generic "Indians"? I can see the problem with "Redskins" and even "Braves," but I'm not sure starting (if this was the start) with this one was a good idea.

Bobby Little Bear: If you had a population of indigenous People in the Poolesville area then the answer would be up to them.
The reason for talking to Poolesville is because Mr. Levine, the Principle generously invited the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs to educate the PTSA. Every student is important, any one of which may grow up to lead the Country. Therefore there is no "small fish" and certainly every Native child deserves respect as do all our children. I have identified about 70 major organizations that are in addition to MCIA taking this issue up with the organizations such as the Redskins.

St. Louis, MO: How do you respond to what I call the Florida State Factor: the fact that the leaders of the Seminole Nation have not only not objected to Florida State's calling themselves the Seminoles, or to the accompanying ritual before games, but seem to have welcomed the association? Does a member of, say, the Osage tribe have a right to object to FSU calling itself the Seminoles if the Seminoles themselves don't find it offensive?

Bobby Little Bear: I grew up in Florida and obtained my BA at UCF. Many of my friends are Seminoles. Everyone has the right to an opinion. In the areas where there is a significant Native population and a specific tribal proper name is utilized these groups have legal rights which they must decide if appropriate to exercise. The MCIA is currently addressing the "generic" terms that stereotype a race of people. The feathers, drums, bonnets, face paint and other references for many are religious items. These gestures and chants are offensive to our religion.

Crownsville, MD: I have heard some people say that "the name
of a school team or mascot is not meant to be
demeaning in any way...American Indians should be proud to have a team named after
them..." How would you respond to this?

Bobby Little Bear: We realize teams were calling themselves by a name they perceive as good. But, we are saying it doesn't matter what non-Natives feel, we know from experience and from living inside this skin that it is insulting. Slavery was acceptable in this country, many would stand on soapboxes all day touting its great advantages to society and owners were "proud" of their slaves. IT WASN'T RIGHT THEN AND IT'N NOT RIGHT NOW. We are stating it clearly, this is demeaning and insulting and hurting all of our children.

Arlington, VA: I am a mutt within American culture and I have a large percentage of American Indian blood in my ancestry. No matter what people call a team/mascot, I will always be proud of myself for who I am. I graduated from Miami Univ. in Oxford, OH. The Univ. recently changed their name from REDSKINS to REDHAWKS, but I will always be a REDSKIN. I felt proud of how the Univ. portrayed the American Indian; WHAT will PC do to help the American Indian image?

Bobby Little Bear: Traditionally when many tribes went to war they PRAYED for four days that all would heal, then four days afterward that all would heal. It was a serious issue. The terms Redskins refers to a policy by President Jackson which called for the termination of Natives, thus it was $100 for every male, $50 for every female and $25 for the "skin" of every CHILD turned in for bounty to the US Army. This is why the term is so horribly offensive. General Sullivan's men made leggings and boots out of the hips and legs of Native men they encountered. We can go on, but have made the point.

Bethesda: Why not focus the fight against the Cleveland Indians and the Redskins, teams with the money to buy new uniforms easily?

Bobby Little Bear: It's not always about money. It's about protecting our children, our culture and traditions from defamation. And we need to educate our school age children to make moral and ethical value judgements. These are our future. Every child is important. Educational and Spiritual Church Organizations around the country have stepped forward to voice support as they too realize the impact of "name calling, gesturing and other inappropriate and inaccurate depiction of Human Being. Footnote: most Native peoples names for themselves, in their own language, mean "Human Beings or The People."

Wentzville, Missouri: I've been thinking about this issue to an
extent, because of my ancestry has native
American origin. My question is " Do you that
every team that has nickname such as,
warriors are discriminating?" I can certainly
understand your point on " Redskins".

Bobby Little Bear: Anytime we stereotype it is a racial accusation. We should be teaching our children to value diversity. One student proudly told me she had been an "Indian" for 6 years and while I appreciate her pride I have been and Osage for 41 years and my proud father for 70. And it goes on. Happily, students have shared with us their changes in attitudes, they simply had not looked at this issue from all sides. There is enough information on the web and plenty of fact and figures to make this an educated decision and not one of pure emotion or "PC"

Washington, DC: I support you, but I have to point out (as some people in the article and some in this chat have) that the Washington Redskins are by far your biggest fish to fry. Why go after high school squads first?

Bobby Little Bear: "We didn't go after anyone." This high school came to us to ask for information so that they could make an educated choice in their mascot.

washingtonpost.com: Thanks for joining us today, Bobby Little Bear, and thanks to the readers who joined us as well!

Bobby Little Bear: Thanks for having me, giving the MCIA this opportunity to interact and hopefully educate. Please pursue reading more information on this subject and support the growth and protection of our greatest resource, our children.

© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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