The use of Native American and First Nations names and mascots for sports teams has been the subject of increasing public controversy ever since the beginning of the 1960s, prompting a series of changes across the U.S.. Following the calls to public action to identify and extinguish forms of institutional racism and police misconduct in 2020, these changes have accelerated drastically. The latest news states that Native American mascots are now banned in Washington State.
According to an article by Komonews, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a ban on Native American school mascots, symbols, images, logos, and team names in most public schools in Washington. Inslee signed the legislation on Monday that bans schools from using Native American cultural heritage as mascots, logos, and team names unless the institution has an approval signed by the tribal government. The bill is supposed to end the disrespectful use of Native American imagery in public schools, which is a long-lasting controversial topic.
The measure was brought to the Senate on April 6, 2021 and passed in a vote of 40 to 9, clearing the state House on April 12 in a vote of 90 to 8. It was signed on April 26th, coming into full effect on January 1, 2022. The new measure dictates the school districts to select a new mascot by December 31, to take effect by the end of the 2021-22 school year, removing any uniforms with old mascots or Native American names from sales. This adoption of new measures follows several such moves across the U.S. to stop any use of Native American culture and heritage in a derogative way. Just last month, Cleveland Indians banned headdresses and face paint at games after previously announcing their plans to change the team’s name.
Though many consider this action a step in the right direction, some oppose the bill, arguing that such use of imagery in sports honors Native American culture. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) heavily disagrees on this matter, branding these caricatures as embodiments of negative stereotypes of America’s first people, further disregarding the personhood of the Native Americans. Unfortunately, “Indian” sports brands have grown into multi-million dollar franchises, which can be used as a dispute base.
According to NCAI, there are still over 1900 schools in over 1000 school districts that use Native American sports mascots, referring to “Indians” (over 750), “warriors” (over 400), “braves” (over 200) “chiefs” (over 150), and “redskins” (approx. 100). With such names in use, primarily in aggressive sports, the argument presented by NCAI seems above reasonable, given how the use of those names portrays Native Americans in a less than kind light.
Washington certainly isn’t the first to pass this bill, as California preceded it in 2015, Colorado in 2014 and Oregon and Michigan in 2012. We hope other states follow Washington’s example in pursuit of mutual respect between different ethnic groups.