next two articles illustrate how the psychological effects of the
mascot manifest themselves.
A Difference of Opinion
By Fern Shen
This article first appeared in the Washington Post on October 30,
are two attitudes people have toward Native Americans, and both
of them bother Sienna Burgess, who is Commanche. "One minute
they call us savages or make fun of us, the next minute they want
to be us," said the 17-year-old from Rockville, who wishes
the Washington Redskins would change their name. The football fans
that go to games in face paint and feathers are just like the jokester-wannabes
that she meets day-to-day: Sometimes they seem pathetic, sometimes
recently, for example, some kids at school were making that "woo-woo-woo"
fake Indian sound. Sienna and a Native American friend listened
and fumed. "It's really offensive, I hate it," she said.
Meanwhile, kids also seem eager to claim that they are part-Indian.
"It's because Indians get 'mad props,' " she said. "Indians
found the country first and had it taken from them. Kids think that's
cool." The Redskins' team name, she said, "used to really
bother me a lot, when I heard it, but now I try not to let it bother
me. I don't let those fake Indians bother me."
cousin Paige Burgess, meanwhile, who also lives in Rockville, has
decided "it's pretty good we have the [Redskins team] name."
"At least it lets other people know we're still here. I take
it kind of proudly," said the 15-year-old, who is Commanche
and Pawnee. "When you think of team names, they're mostly taken
from something strong, like the Denver Broncos--a bronco is something
strong." Paige said he cheers for the Kansas City Chiefs. Both
Paige and Sienna say they have had to learn to deal with people's
stereotypes about Native Americans. Paige encounters people who
think he should be low-key and smoke a peace pipe, even though he's
outgoing and a Christian. Sienna was afraid to even admit she was
Indian when she moved from Oklahoma to the D.C. area eight years
were a lot of Indians back there, and none here. I was ashamed,"
said Sienna. But gradually she met others. There are two Indian
families, one Crow, one Navaho, in her Rockville neighborhood. She
goes to the Indian Education Center in Rockville and dances in pow-wows
all around the region.
she said, "I'm proud."
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many issues do these young people face when confronted with an Indian
mascot? First, they must shrug off any feelings that cause them dismay,
then they learn to justify it with accepting the comparison to wild animals.
One of them even said that at least the mascot lets people know they are
still here, alive among the stereotypes. This is a common statement among
Native people that support the mascots. Is there any other ethnic group
that has faded away with the removal of stereotypes? No, but there have
not been any other groups that were systematically eliminated in this
country either. In no way does the mascot empower these people. At every
turn they must come up with excuses that make living with the mascots
acceptable to them. The result can only be to become bitter or sad adults.
The next writer has had to live his whole life with the smiling image
of a white woman adorned in Native attire, crowned and recognized city-wide
as the first Miss Spokane. This, just shortly after all the original Spokane
Indians had been removed.
waiting for a table at the Sawtooth Grill, my wife told me not to
turn around. I was dying to know who was behind me. Tax collector,
salesman, Satan? Curiosity got the best of me, and I spun around
to see a framed picture of a white woman in faux American Indian
garb. She wore a headband, braids and some kind of imitation buckskin
dress. Whenever I see someone playing dress-up as an American Indian,
I try to stifle an old and familiar anger.
told you not to turn around," my wife said.
tried to say something jovial and shake off my frustration. "Oh,
good," I said. "We can't have enough of these pictures
during lunch, I grew quieter as my mind began churning. This photo
depicts a white woman named Marguerite Motie, who was used to promote
Spokane. In 1912, Motie (pronounced Mo'chee) became the first Miss
Spokane. She was a celebrity who appeared at ceremonial events and
was held up as the image of Spokane. To most, it's simply a historical
photo. To me, it's a document that shows how casually racist those
times were. Miss Spokane's dress had a sun on her chest, a nod to
the Salish word, Spokane, which was commonly held to mean "Children
of the Sun." Her romanticized costume was probably intended
as a tribute to the tribe. I see it as a sad American story. The
July issue of Nostalgia Magazine printed a photo of Motie at the
Playfair Race Course, with her "maids of honor" who wore
buckskin and feathers. This was about the time when the Spokane
Indian Reservation was being chopped up into allotments. A local
newspaper story that appeared Jan. 25, 1909, said Spokane Indians
"Gobbled Best of Spokane Reservation." After tribal members
were removed from their homes by the river, city leaders stole their
name and image too. Now you can see Miss Spokane hanging in a hot
I'd get on a rant about things like Crazy Horse Beer, the Land O'Lakes
butter Indian maiden, and horror movie plots built on "old
Indian burial grounds," a well-read friend who attended Reed
College would tell me, "It's the American way. We kill people
and name places after them."
ugly history swam through my mind as I looked at Motie's picture
on the wall. Growing up as an Indian in this region, there were
so many times when something offended me. Sometimes I'd speak up
and be told by well-meaning friends that I'm too sensitive. Or that
I took something wrong and should let it go. Some of the kindest
souls in the world thought the best thing was to stifle these feelings.
Staying quiet made them feel better. But it only made me mad.
uncomfortable opinions does come with a cost. I remember the time
a good friend showed me her favorite movie, "Holiday Inn,"
done in 1942 by Irving Berlin. It's a light-hearted musical with
Bing Crosby that is charming until Crosby performs a musical number
in blackface. I couldn't get over that part. Because she could,
my friend felt like I was calling her a racist.
is easy to look back and pick on outdated notions that were once
acceptable. Who among us doesn't have an elderly relative we love
dearly but who says things about race and religion we hope no one
else hears? The Motie photo in the restaurant came as a shock to
me, like hearing someone's grandmother use a racial slur.
once, I want people to see what I see when they gaze at Miss Spokane,
with her angelic face framed by a headband, in her fringed dress
and primitive necklace, at the height of her glory.
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