If You Want To Understand Why Mascots Like ‘Redskins’ Are A Problem, Listen To This 15-Year-Old Native American

Many schools, like Neshaminy High in Pennsylvania, still use the “Redskins” nickname. CREDIT: AP
Many schools, like Neshaminy High in Pennsylvania, still use the “Redskins” nickname. CREDIT: AP

Dahkota Franklin Kicking Bear Brown can’t remember a time when he didn’t look forward to high school football games. But every year, there is one game on the annual Argonaut High School football schedule that Brown doesn’t enjoy.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always gone to my high school football games, and once I got into high school, it made it that much more fun being on the field,” Brown said Tuesday. “But there has always been one game I dreaded going to. One of our school’s biggest rivals is the Calaveras Redskins. Calaveras has always had an obscene amount of school pride, but little do they know how damaging their routines are, not only to the Natives in attendance, but most likely to the Native Americans who attend their own school.”

Brown, a 15-year-old Native American student from California, told the story of playing against Calaveras High School in a powerful speech about the effects of Native American mascots and imagery in sports during an event on the subject at the Center for American Progress (full disclosure: I participated in a panel discussion at the event; the Center for American Progress is the parent company of this site).

Calaveras games feature stereotypical behavior, Brown said: war paint, drums, buckskin outfits on cheerleaders, and faux-Native chanting. Calaveras’ opponents can be even worse, Brown said, using the “Redskins” nickname to justify all sorts of behavior that makes Native American students and players like him more than uncomfortable.

“All of these actions, along with many more, hurt my heart. With so many around me, I feel ganged up on,” he continued. “At the same time, all of these screaming fans don’t know how offensive they are. Or that they are even in the presence of a Native. Most of the time, they don’t even know that Natives still exist.”

Watch the full speech:

The subject of Native American mascots has received more scrutiny over the last year as a rising chorus of Native American groups, political leaders, civil rights organizations, and media outlets have focused on the name of the NFL’s Washington Redskins. But the NFL team isn’t the only one using names like “Redskins” or Native American imagery: in California alone, Brown said, more than 180 schools use such names, mascots, and logos, and while the number across the country has fallen significantly from its peak, more than 900 uses of such imagery still exist in sports at the scholastic, collegiate, and professional levels.

Those names and logos have major effects on young Native Americans like Brown, who detailed personal experiences with the loss of identity and the invisibility that those mascots help create. He said that teachers had told him and friends that they “had no idea you all were Native”; he told the story of a time when he dressed as Red Cloud, a famous former chief of the Oglala Lakota tribe, for a report at school only to bullied and ridiculed by other students. Brown started a nonprofit organization to promote Native youth, and through it, he has seen even worse experiences from other students.

“There are countless Native students who feel the same as I do,” Brown said. “I’m here as a voice for all Native students. It’s time to change the name and change the mascot, not only at Calaveras but across the nation.”

“The amount of pain felt by our Native youth outweighs the pain of any dedicated racist mascot fans by an immeasurable amount,” Brown concluded. “It’s time for a change.”