Friday, 15 June 2012

What's in a Name? Indigenous Peoples, Sports Mascots and a Reality Check

Respectful and appropriate use of indigenous names, references, cultural symbols and representations are issues that can come up in a number of legal areas. One of the most curious tales comes from North Dakota where the state government mandated the use of the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and mascot for the university sports team in defiance of a ban of the name by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) that oversees university sports in the United States. According to this article:

“The NCAA banned UND [University of North Dakota]from hosting postseason tournaments and said the school could not use the nickname or logo in postseason play, or else it must forfeit those games.”

The use of indigenous names and symbols for sports teams has been under close scrutiny for many years. Those who defend the usage of indigenous names, symbols or mascots for sports team make the rather ironic claim of “honouring” indigenous groups. But some indigenous groups take an opposite view, that the use of indigenous names, symbols and other indigenous representations is anything but respectful. This article provides an informative summary of the long-standing debates. It also points to this link about the film “In Whose Honor?” that provides a more detailed analysis of the the usage of indigenous names and symbols for sports team nicknames and mascots.

So adamant was the North Dakota state government that it passed a state law that required the use of the “Fighting Sioux” nickname-- in defiance of the NCAA position. A vote earlier this week in North Dakota delivered a strong message—end its usage. (details at this link)

There are of course sports teams in the United States that continue to use nicknames and mascots that reference indigenous groups and culture. Perhaps the North Dakota vote heralds a wake-up call that indigenous peoples are not relics found only in museums or found in black and white Westerns— but are alive and here today. Perhaps more than anything the debate points to the deep irony of the positioning of indigenous peoples in mainstream United States—there is little recognition of their existence, let alone recognition of rights, in the present day—but plenty of energy devoted to their playing a role in the recollection of a romanticised and idealised past. Cigar store “Indians” and other such mascot like symbols are welcomed—but living breathing individuals and groups making their existence known are given scant attention.

No comments :