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Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013

Issue of the Week: New Indian Team Name Bill Perpetuates Stereotypes

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It’s hard to imagine that schools would fight for the right to call their sports teams names that conjure up violence created by Europeans or European Americans. But somehow it’s OK for schools to promote the allegedly violent nature of Native Americans, according to Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Citing the First Amendment, Walker signed a bill that would make it more difficult for the public to require schools to end the use of Native American-based team names, mascots and logos.

But just because the First Amendment allows people to say something, doesn’t mean that what’s being said is fair or wise.

Schools are supposed to educate and enlighten our children. But using Native American warrior-type images simply perpetuates stereotypes about our state’s original residents and does nothing to educate students about Native American cultures. It’s the opposite of education and enlightenment.

“Native American sports team names, logos and mascots do not ‘honor’ Indians,” Michael Allen Sr., executive director of the Great Lakes Inter-tribal Council, said in a statement. “They promote what some people think of as a warrior or take-no-prisoners fighting spirit. Sports logos and mascots ignore Native American statesmen, teachers, inventors, artists, farmers, parents, veterans and religious leaders, and they ignore cultural differences that distinguish one tribe from another. No other ethnic group would or should tolerate such discriminatory ‘free speech’ that is governmentally approved first at a school district level, and now at the state level.”

Walker has said that he’d like to “educate” people about how “certain phrases and symbols that are used as nicknames and mascots are offensive to many of our fellow citizens.” Education is part of the solution. But Walker should have continued to allow citizens to have a useful way to eliminate these offensive symbols, and not thrown more obstacles in their way.