Holden’s NCAI colleague, the legislative associate Brian Howard, agrees. He pointed out that many of the Native representations in collegiate and professional sports sprung up “in the early 1900s, when a lot of the perception by the general populace toward Native Americans was that we were a dying race, in terms of actual numbers and as concerted efforts to try to assimilate Native peoples into mainstream society and to do away with” the idea of sovereign nations and cultures. Howard notes that the argument that the names are intended to honor, not offend, are flawed.
Ross challenges where the line of acceptability is drawn by the non-Native majority in this country. “If ‘Redskins’ is an inappropriate title, then we shouldn’t use any Native names,” he suggests.
Holden agrees, saying, “I would like to do away with all of them. They’re all derogatory, they use caricatures, and they all use the things that Native people use as part of our culture … Eagle feathers within Native communities and societies [are] given for doing good things for the community, for their families … and for warriors who faced death defending our homelands, so these are things that are not taken lightly.”
Holden and Howard point out that to associate symbols that mean so much to the tribal community with something as trivial as athletics is insulting and derogatory.
“To kind of minimalize that into a sports setting doesn’t really do them honor,” Howard says.
Holden says that it is important that other states follow suit and that Native representation across all levels of sports stop. He is encouraged, though, that there appears to be growing support for this perspective.
“There are a lot of folks out there who are like-minded and rational thinking and they’ve become enlightened,” he says. “Sports writers, President Obama, [and] members of Congress” have expressed support, and “schools across the country are changing [their] mascot, caricatures, and names.” Such actions are a move in the right direction, says Holden.
“How is it that folks can’t understand or see what is the truth? … Why they’re being so obstinate or not willing to be educated about Native people and what this really means and what it stands for” is puzzling, he continues.
Ross says it isn’t necessarily for people to understand. “This isn’t about subjective offense,” he says. “It’s about voice. … It’s about saying we have enough agency, autonomy, and intelligence to decide what’s right for us.”
In Tallahassee, Florida, one institution, aided by a regional tribe, has worked hard to show that not all representation of Native imagery and symbols are created equal and at least one tribe is being given the opportunity to decide exactly what works for it.
“For almost 70 years, Florida State has worked closely, side by side, with the Seminole Tribe of Florida in a relationship that is mutually supportive and built on respect,” says Browning Brooks, the assistant vice president for university communications at Florida State University.