Native American Cohort panel discusses history and impact of racist mascots

Naming Injustice: Exploring Native American Mascots, a virtual talk, discussed mascots nationally and close to home

Virginia Laurie

The Native American Cohort hosted two Native American speakers to discuss racist mascoting in American franchises during a Feb. 10 virtual panel.

Charlene Teeters, a Spokane elder, and John Little, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux, talked about the abuse of native cultural sym- bols and racist native-based mascots, like the former name and logo of the NFL’s Washing- ton Football Team.

This topic is relevant to Washington and Lee Univeristy, which sits on Monacan Indian Nation land, said Jessica Wager, executive assistant to the provost and Muscogee Creek Descendant.

Wager and Kelly Fujiwara, special events coordinator for Lee House, made a joint state- ment regarding the Native American Cohort’s ongoing goals for promoting these discus- sions.

“W&L sits on Monacan Indian Nation land. Monacan people, and other indigenous people, work at this university. W&L has Native American students enrolled,” the statement said. “W&L has an enormous opportunity to open a new chapter in our institutional past and present which acknowledges and honors Native people who continue to contribute to our community.”

Teters was the focus of a 1997 documentary, “In Whose Honor,” which examined historical exploitation of indigenous symbols.

Little, in his 2020 documentary “More Than a Word,” examined native mascots specifi- cally.

Teters discussed her experience at the University of Illinois when Chief Illiniwek still served as the school’s mascot.

She said she was hor- rified to see students playing with symbols central to her identity as a Native person and began to realize the severity of the issue stereotypes cause.

“It was only when I was in that environment that I realized how dangerous these ideas were,” she said. “As universities graduate people who go on to make decisions that im- pact Native people based on their stereotypes, there is a damage, especially when these ideas are being put forward by an educational insti- tution.”

Harvey Markowitz, one of Washington and Lee’s panel moderators, spoke to the relevance of problematic mascoting at Washing- ton and Lee.

“In the case of W&L’s Generals, Robert E. Lee in particular, the university has lopsid- edly reshaped his biography into a symbol of honor and liberal arts education that conceals a military career that was dedicated to ending the United States through insurrection and continuing the system of slave-owning and trading,” the sociology and anthropology pro- fessor said. “We not only have the right but obligation as a great educational institution to question the wisdom of Lee’s mascoting.”