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PSU professor to discuss the use of Native Americans as mascots in US

Lauren Hamlin
The Broadside

Various schools across the country display Native American mascots and logos that may seem honoring, but to many in the Native American community they are damaging and hurtful.

Dr. Pewewardy, Portland State University’s director of Indigenous Nations Studies will present a lecture an discussion at Central Oregon Community College surrounding the issue of Native American mascots in public schools.

“Indigenous Peoples would never have associated the sacred practices of becoming a warrior with the hoopla of a pep rally, half-time entertainment, or a side-kick to cheerleaders,” said Pewewardy on the American Indian Sports Team Mascot website.

Pewewardy has given this lecture before and has written letters to educators trying to get the message across.

“This behavior makes a mockery of Indigenous cultural identity and causes many young Indigenous people to feel shame about who they are as a cultural being, because racial stereotypes play an important role in shaping a young person’s consciousness,” said Pewewardy on the website.

In COCC’s Native American club there are over a dozen different tribes represented, according to Native American program coordinator Justine Conner.

Native Americans represent 2.6% of COCC’s student population, according to Connor.

“It [the issue of using Native American mascots] has been important enough to students that in the past we’ve showed the movie ‘In Whose Honor’ at our annual COCC salmon bake,” said Connor. “‘In Whose Honor’ is a documentary film that talks about the Indian Mascot issue from the perspective of Indian people.”

Several program members agree one of the main issues is the stereotyping and generalizing of Native Americans.

“They [schools using Native American mascots] have these names that paint a general picture of all Native Americans and they don’t realize that there are different tribes,” said Isaiah Spence, a COCC student and Native American program member. “So if they’re going to have a name, represent the tribe; do it in a respectful way and not make it a gimmick.”

Not all of the program’s members feel strongly about it though.

“I didn’t have the experience of a non-Native American mascot making fun,” said Sheryl Courtney, a Native American program member. “As long as people know who they are they don’t have to take offense.”

This lecture is part of the 2011 season of nonviolence events and is sponsored by the Native American program, which has been funded in part by a private trust for more than three decades.

“They need to come to the lecture,” said Native American program’s treasurer Cruz Mueller, to those who don’t fully understood the issue. “He will explain it.”

Lauren Hamlin can be reached at lhamlin@cocc.edu

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