This past week marked the beginning of college hockey’s Frozen Final Four, with the eventual crowning of the Michigan State Spartans as the men’s Division I national champions. Before the championship game the four teams left standing were the Michigan State Spartans, the Maine Black Bears, the Boston College Eagles and the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. While the North Dakota Fighting Sioux were eliminated before the championship game, their Native American logo was abundant. Numerous fans wore jerseys and face paint and carried flags and blankets throughout the arena embodied with this logo. Recently, the NCAA has deemed logos like the Fighting Sioux and others like the former mascot of the University of Illinois (Chief Illiniwek) offensive, and has barred these images from post-season play. Universities that continue to use these images are also not allowed to host post-season events at their particular campus.North Dakota, however, has been able to get around this because they are suing the NCAA in order to retain usage of their Native American logo. They have been allowed to continue to use this image until the trial begins. A University suing the NCAA over the usage of a logo that many find offensive and fans in tears after the retiring of a very stereotypical and inaccurate depiction of a Native American Chief leads this Cherokee Indian to ask how much further into the margins can society push the first inhabitants of this country?
Whenever this debate over Native American imagery and mascots comes up a common defense is that these images and mascots honor the culture and tradition of Native Americans. What this does in reality is limit Native American culture to drum beating, face painting, and of course the wearing of headdresses. This allows many who know nothing of Native American culture to group all Native Americans into one hegemonic category. A tendency that allows for Native Americans to be identified and defined by the simple stereotypes such as the ones previous mentioned. With regards to the sporting teams that Native Americans have become the symbols of, parallels are also drawn to Native Americans as warriors and people of spirit. In relation to the retirement of Chief Illiniwek, University of
Illinois retiree Paul Bruns was quoted in the Associated Press (2007) saying, “To me the chief is spirit. Why did [American Indians] dance? They danced for spirit” (http://sports.espn.go.com/ncaa/news/story?id=2774670). This not only lumps all Native Americans together, but it also simplifies the dancing of their culture to spirit.
To me this does not even come close to honoring a culture. It instead reduces a very diverse group of people, each with distinct and beautiful cultures into one group based on trivial stereotypes. If our society were to truly honor Native Americans we would not reduce them to logos and mascots. A society that wants to honor Native Americans would make greater effort to educate people on the history of Native Americans. They would also draw attention to the fact that Native Americans are not just a piece of early American history, but are still a part of American society. Unfortunately we get our information about Native Americans from popular stereotypes. This continues a historical tradition of delegating the original inhabitants of this country to the margins of society behind a curtain of supposed honor and respect. The University of North Dakota is pursuing a lawsuit to retain their Fighting Sioux name and logo despite numerous protests, and objections from some of the Sioux tribes in the region. Just the fact that there are multiple divisions of the Sioux tribe should symbolize that it is problematic to lump them into one group. As I get ready for a hockey game of my own tonight I am preparing my face paint, and practicing my dance of “spirit” as that is what all Native Americans do. Wait a second! The Cherokee tribe is a lot more sophisticated than that. Our culture, along with every other Native American tribe is unique and so much more than “spirit,” dancing, drum beating, and going to war. If only we could somehow find a way to diminish these simplistic and stereotypical views of us as a group of very diverse and marginalized people………….