North Dakota U Dumps Fighting Sioux Mascot. Can We Finally Get Rid of ‘Prairie N****r,’ Too?

( – promoted by navajo)

What does the epithet “Prairie Nigger” have to do with the controversy around the University of North Dakota’s mascot, the “Fighting Sioux?”

It’s simple.

Racism.

Simply racism.

Follow me from a 2009 Tribal Council Meeting on the Standing Rock Reservation where students testified about why they had dropped out of the University of North Dakota to recent news that the North Dakota legislature has effectively repealed a law it passed earlier this year that mandated that the UND keep the Fighting Sioux Mascot, bucking a 30+ year trend to to get rid of these disrespectful signs of school spirit. So now the mascot and team name is “in transition” (to avoid further NCAA sanctions).

How long did this thing going take to play out?

Decades. Decades during which American Indian students on campus were the subject of racist attacks while the university simultaneously built up its American Indian Studies program.

And to add intrigue to this story, there was a nefarious, Nazi-obsessed, big capitalist donor (read, casino owner) behind this controversy at its height.

And P.S. No, I’m not exaggerating about the Nazi obsession. This actually supports research suggesting that once you stereotype one group you’re more likely to stereotype other groups. So, the mascots actually increase stereotyping in general.

There is a long history of sports teams using American Indian mascots in this country, and another long history of activists convincing schools to stop this disrespectful practice. There is a good timeline”here of efforts to get rid of Indian mascots since 1968.

Here is a good summary of the issue. It is from an academic article that talks about “the activists” but then goes on to show the the historical and psychological accuracy of the arguments below:

Anti-mascot activists articulate many different arguments against the mascots. First, they assert that the mascots stereotype Native Americans as only existing in the past, having a single culture, and being aggressive fighters. Second, they hold that these stereotypes influence the way people perceive and treat Native Americans. Such imagery is seen as affecting Native American images of themselves, creating a hostile climate for many Native Americans, and preventing people from understanding current Native American realities, which affects public policy relative to Native Americans. Third, the activists state that no racial cultural group should be mimicked (especially in regard to sacred items/practices), even if such mimicking is “culturally accurate.” And fourth, they argue that Native Americans should have control over how they are represented (Davis, 1993,2002; King & Springwood, 2001a, 2001b; Pewewardy, 1991; Spindel, 2000; Staurowsky, 2000).

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I have posted the references from the article at the end of the diary for your further research. Research does NOT support claims that these mascots are harmless, or respectful, or anything but hegemonic discourse that makes stereotyping seem natural.

Taunts and Eggs on the UND Campus

I went out to the Standing Rock Reservation in 2009 and ended up sitting in on a Tribal Council meeting. The Tribal Chairman at the time, Ron His Horse is Thunder, was ardently against continuing the use of the Mascot, as were most of the Tribal Council members. The Tribal Council had voted to continue objecting to the use of the mascot in 2007. In 2009 it was voting on whether to hold a reservation-wide vote.

As I was watching the normal business of the Tribe being discussed, a line of former UND students began emotional testimony about why they had dropped out of school. They all dejectedly described how they had been harassed on campus by white students, had eggs thrown at them, and sometimes had been physically attacked. They all had also been called “prairie nigger” on several occasions.


Prairie nigger?
I really thought I hadn’t heard that correctly. What must it feel like to be called that while you’re trying to get yourself an education to improve your lot in life????? It was jaw dropping.

What the HELL was THAT all about?

Racism. Racism inflamed by money. More specifically, big donor Ralph Englestad’s threat to withdraw $100 million in funding for a new stadium, which he had engraved with hundreds of Fighting Sioux mascots.

Although there had been tensions on campus around the issue for a couple of decades, they became inflamed at the turn of the 21st Century, and the NCAA finally stepped in in 2005:

The NCAA instituted its policy in 2005, initially listing 18 schools whose nicknames and/or mascots were “hostile or abusive” toward native Americans. Schools that continued to use the nicknames, or hostile or abusive images, would not be able to host NCAA postseason events or use the images at an NCAA postseason event.

North Dakota is the only school from that initial list that has not already changed its nickname, mascot and/or logo.

The university had agreed to retire its nickname and logo in mid-August, but the Legislature pre-empted those plans by approving a bill in March that requires UND to keep them.

Nickname supporters flooded lawmakers with emails at the time, and Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed the measure only a few hours after he received it.

That legislation is what has just been repealed.

A little more on what happened after the initial 2005 NCAA action.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent Sports Illustrated article:

…UND filed a lawsuit challenging how the association had reached its decision. In an October 2007 settlement, the university agreed to retire its nickname and logo if it could not get approval from North Dakota’s two largest Sioux tribes, the Standing Rock Sioux and the Spirit Lake Sioux, for their continued use.

The Spirit Lake Sioux tribe endorsed the nickname in a subsequent referendum, but the Standing Rock Sioux tribal council declined to support it or call a reservation referendum on the question.

Robert Kelley, UND’s president, said he had spent about half his time as president on the nickname and logo issue since taking the job in 2008. In the last year, the issue has demanded almost three-quarters of his time, Kelley said.

Repealing the law would “support our student athletes by removing sanctions (and) other restrictions that complicate the future of UND athletics,” Kelley said.

The 2009 vote on Standing Rock came out of the 2007 suit. How could it vote in favor of it after that testimony? Too many white students were acting out the disrespect and racism embodied in the use of the Fighting Sioux mascot.

But lets go back a bit farther to who the hell this donor was (he died in 2002).

A Nazi-obsessed Donor

From a 2001 Salon.com article:

Enter Mephisto, dasher boards left. Ralph Engelstad is a Las Vegas casino owner and a major donor to the University of North Dakota, where he was a goalie in the late ’40s. He’s also a guy who’s been fined $1.5 million by the Nevada Gaming Control Board for damaging the reputation of the state by holding, in two separate years, private Hitler’s Birthday parties at his casino, complete with a swastika cake, German food and marching music, bartenders wearing T-shirts with the words “Adolph Hitler European Tour 1939-45,” and a life-size portrait of Hitler inscribed “To Ralphie from Adolph, 1939.” He says he despises Hitler, and that the parties were merely “spoofs” meant to celebrate new purchases for his collection of Nazi memorabilia.

Yeah, right….

Here’s an excerpt of a letter he wrote to UND in 2000, yes almost 12 years ago, about the mascot issue:

If the logo and slogan are not approved by the above-mentioned date, I will then write a letter on December 30, 2000, to all contractors and to everybody associated with the arena, canceling their construction contracts for the completion of the arena. I am a man of my word, and I will see to it that a settlement is made with all subcontractors, with anyone who has purchased prepaid advertising. I will refund money to all ticket holders and abandon the project. It would then be left up to you if you want to complete it, with money from wherever you may be able to find it.

I have spent, as of this time, in excess of $35 million, which I will consider a bad investment, but I will take my lumps and walk away.

As I am sure you realize, the commitment I made to the university of North Dakota was, I believe, one of the 10 largest ever made to a school of higher education, but if it is not completed, I am sure it will be the number one building never brought to completion at a school of higher education, due to your changing the logo and the slogan.

You need to think how changing this logo and slogan will affect not just the few that are urging the name change, but also how it will affect the university as a while, the students, the city of Grand forks, and the state of North Dakota.

If I walk away and abandon the project, please be advised that we will shut off all temporary heat going to this building, and I am sure that nature, through its cold weather, will completely destroy any portion of the building through frost that you might be able to salvage. I surely hoped that it would never come to this, but I guess it has.

It is a good thing that you are an educator because you are a man of indecision, and, and if you were a businessman, you would not succeed, you would be broke immediately.

Please do not consider this letter a threat in any manner, as it is not intended to be. It is only notification to you of exactly what I am going to do if you change this logo and this slogan.

In the event it is necessary to cancel the completion of the arena, I will then send notification to anyone who is interested, informing them of the same, and laying out to them all of the facts and all of the figures from all of the meetings that led me to make this decision.

Your lack of making a decision has hung over our heads too long, and we can’t go on with it any further.

It is your choice if you want to put hundreds of construction workers out of a job, and deprive the local businesses of Grand forks of the income they are receiving f4rom the construction of the arena.

Always sticking to the economic blackmail, as is typical of the right.

By now it should be clear that the Fighting Sioux mascot was directly related to harassment of American Indian students at the University of North Dakota, and that the racism that it promotes was directly related to the frequency of the “prairie nigger” epithet. The example I cited from the testimony wasn’t the only instance of this kind of racial harassment. Similar incidents, including hateful emails, are documented in articles describing tensions in the early 2000s.

So, if you look at the UND website, you’ll see an overlay about the transition, which seems to have taken place immediately after the Nov 10 vote by the North Dakota legislature.

Can we now work on retiring the epithet “prairie nigger” too? I’m not naive enough to believe that nobody will hear that again, but with this mascot issue gone, I’m hoping that there will at least be LESS harassment of American Indian students.

Here are the references from that article:

REFERENCES

American Indian opinion leaders: American Indian mascots. (2001, August 7). Indian Country Today Retrieved May 22, 2002 from http://web.archive.org/web/20040301122612/http://www.indiancountry.com/?43

Berkhofer, R. F. (1978). The White man’s Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to present. New York: Vintage/Random Rouse.

Bird, S. E. (Ed.). (1996). Dressing in feathers: The construction of the Indian in American popular culture. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Brown et al V. Board of Education of Topeka et al. (1954) 347 U.S. 483.

Clark, D. A. (2002). Someone inside me, there is a memory of my grandfathers:Mis-educated representations of “Indians, those symbolic insiders.” Unpublished manuscript.

Coombe, R.J. (1998). Embodied trademarks: Mimesis and alterity on American commercial frontiers. Cultural Anthropology, 11(2), 202-224.

Davis, L. R. (1993). Protest against the use of Native American mascots: A challenge to traditional American identity. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 17(1), 9-22.

Davis, t. R. (2002, Summer). The problems with Native American mascots. Multicultural Education, 9(4) 11-14.

Davis, L. R., & Rau, M. (2001). Escaping the tyranny of the majority: A case study of mascot change. In C. R. King & C. fl Springwood (Eds.), Team spirits: The Native American mascot controversy (pp.221-238). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Deloria, P. J. (1998). Playing Indian. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Farnell, B. (in press). The fancy dance of racializing discourse. American Indian Quarterly.

Fenelon, J. V. (1999). Indian icons in the world series of racism: Institutionalization of the racial symbols of wahoos and Indians. Research in Politics and Society (6): 25-45.

Goldberg, B. (2001).Bias:A CBS insider exposes how the media distort the news. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing.

Green, R. (1988). The tribe called wannabee: Playing Indian in America and Europe. Folklore, 99, 30-55.

Greenfeld, L. A.& Smith, S. K. (1999). American Indians and crime. Washington, DC:Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Grounds, R. (2001, June). Tallahassee, Osceola, and the hermenuetics of American place-names. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 69(2), 287-322.

Hooks b. (1992). Black looks: Race and representation. Boston: South End Press.

Jaimes, M. A. (1992). The state of Native America: Genocide, colonization, and resistance. Boston: South End Press.

King, C. R. (2001). Uneasy Indians: Creating and contesting Native American mascots at Marquette University. In C. R. King & C. F. Springwood (Eds.), Team spirits: The Native American mascot controversy (pp. 281-303). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

King, C. H. (2002). Defensive dialogues: Native American mascots, Anti-Indianism, and educational institutions. SIMILE: Studies in Media and information Literacy Education, 2(1). Retrieved from – Dead link > www.utpjournals.com/jour.ihtrnl?lp=simile/issue5/king1.html

King, C. H. (in press). Arguing over images: Native American mascots and race. In H. A. Lind (Ed.), Race /gender~media: Considering diversity across audiences, content, and producers. Boston: ABLongrnan.

King, C. R., & Springwood, C. F. (2000). Fighting spirits: The racial politics of sports mascots. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 24(3): 282-304.

King, C. R., & Springwood, C. F (2001a). Beyond the cheers: Race as spectacle in college sports Albany: State University of New York Press.

King, C. R., & Spriagwood, C. F (Eds.). (2001b). Team spirits: The Native American mascot controversy Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

KoIb, J. J. (2001). Indian mascots: Activists say change needs to begin at home. American Indian Report 11(3): 24-25.

Mihesuah, D. A. (1996). American Indians: Stereotypes and realities. Atlanta, GA:
Clarity Press.

Nagel,J. (1995). American Indian ethnic renewal: Politics and the resurgence of identity. American Sociological Review, 60, 947-965.

Pewewardy, C. D. (1991). Native American mascots and imagery: The struggle of unlearning stereotypes. Journal of Navajo Education, 9(1), 19-23.

Pewewardy, C. D. (2001). Educators and mascots: Challenging contradictions. In C. R. King & C. F Springwood (Eds.), Team spirits: The Native American mascot controversy (pp. 257-278). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Pewewardy, C. D. (2002, May). From subhuman to superhuman: Images of First Nations people in comic books [Electronic version). Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education, 2(2), Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20020909233516/http://www.utpjournals.com/jour.ihtml?lp=simile/issue6/Pewewardyfulltext.html

Rosenstein, J. (1996). In whose honor? American Indian mascots in sports [Film]. (Available from New Day Films, 22-D Hollywood Avenue, Ho-ho-kus, NJ, 07423)

Shively, J. (1992). Cowboys and Indians: Perceptions of western film by American Indians and Anglos. American Sociological Review, 57(6), 725-734.

Sigelman, L. (1998). Hail to the Redskins? Public reactions to a racially insensitive team name. Sociology of Sport Journal, 15(4), 317-325.

Slapin, B., & Seale, D. (1998)-Through Indian eyes: The native experience in books for children. Berkeley, CA: Oyate.

Spindel, C. (2000). Dancing at halftime: Sports and the controversy over American Indian mascots. New York: New York University Press.

Springwood, C. F. (2001). Playing Indian and fighting (for) mascots: Reading the complications of Native American and Euro-American alliances. In C. R. King & C. F. Springwood (Eds.), Team spirits: The Native American mascot controversy (pp. 304-327). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Springwood, C. F. (in press). I’M an Indian too! Claiming Native American identity, crafting authority in mascot debates. American Indian Quarterly.

Stapleton, B. (2001). Redskins: Racial slur or symbol of success? San Jose, CA: Writers Club Press.That

Staurowsky, E. J. (1998). An act of honor or exploitation? The Cleveland Indians’ use of the Louis Francis Sockalexis story. Sociology of Sport Journal, 15(4), 299-316.

Staurowsky, E. J. (2000). The “Cleveland Indians”: A case study of American Indian cultural dispossession. Sociology of Sport Journal, 17(4): 307-330.

Trainor, D. J. (1995). Native American mascots, schools and the Title VI hostile environment analysis. University of Illinois Law Review, 5, 971-997.

Journal of Sport & Social Issues, Volume 26, No.4, November 2002, pp. 381-402

Voting and Native Languages

( – promoted by navajo)

The federal election voter guide is now available in the four most commonly spoken Native American/Alaska Native languages:  Cherokee, Dakota, Navajo and Yup’ik. These languages are spoken by about 220,500 Americans.

Native American Languages:

Five centuries ago, there were more than 500 distinct Native American languages spoken in North America. With European contact, Native languages began to disappear. The death of these languages was brought about by two basic factors: (1) the death of the people who spoke them, caused by European diseases and deliberate genocide, and (2) the active suppression of Native languages by the American government.

By the 1960s, there were still 175 Indian languages being spoken in the United States and Canada. Of these languages, 136 had fewer than 2,000 speakers and 34 had fewer than 10 speakers. By 2007, it was estimated that only 154 Indian languages were still being spoken and that half of these were spoken only by elders.

At the present time, it estimated that there are 46 Indian languages which are still being spoken by significant numbers of children. Languages which are being learned by children have some chance of survival.  A flourishing language is one in which the contact or colonial language is used almost entirely as a second language. In North America only Navajo, Mississippi Choctaw, and some Cree communities fit this definition.  

Retention of the native language is an important issue for many tribes. Many Native American communities have language programs to try to teach their languages to children.  As a consequence there are on many reservations programs which are intended to maintain the language. In communities in which the children no longer speak the native language, the goal is language revival in which the Indian language is taught as a second language. By 1986 there were 98 language projects involving 55 different Indian languages. There was an enrollment of more than 14,000 students in these programs. By 2006, there were 62 native languages being taught in 101 programs in 24 states and provinces.

In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Languages Act which declared a national policy of respect for Native American languages and encouragement of their continued vitality. In 1997, the Indigenous Language Institute began to put an emphasis on the revitalization of Indian languages, not just their preservation. With new technologies, such as computers, and working with Native communities, languages can be revitalized as a part of daily life.

Navajo:

Navajo (Diné bizaad) is an Athabaskan language which is spoken by more than 140,000 native speakers. Over half of the Navajo speak the language at home and the language is commonly used for everyday communication. Many parents still pass on the Navajo language to their children as a first language.

During World War II, Navajo was used as a code in the Pacific by bilingual code talkers to send military messages over the radio.

While many Navajo still speak their language, a recent survey shows that only 5% of the school-aged children on the reservation speak the language fluently. In an attempt to counter this language loss, many elementary school classes on the reservation are now offering immersion classes in Navajo. One study found that in Window Rock, Arizona, Indian children who began school in Dine (Navajo) and learned English as a second language performed almost two grade levels above their peers who started school in English.

Census data from the Navajo reservation indicate that between 1980 and 1990 the proportion of Navajos aged 5-17 who spoke only English rose from 12% to 28%, and by 2000, the figure reached 43%.

The language most closely related to Navajo is Apache.

Dakota:

There are about 20,355 speakers of Dakota in the United States and Canada. On the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota, there are only 120 fluent speakers out of a tribal population of 4,435. All of the Spirit Lake fluent speakers are elderly. In order to retain the language, people meet in the school gym every other Tuesday for soup and conversation in Dakota.

Cherokee:

Cherokee is an Iroquoian language which is spoken in Oklahoma and in North Carolina. It is estimated that there are between 12,000 and 22,000 fluent speakers. Cherokee is unique among the languages of Native American cultures in North America as it has its own writing system.

Yup’ik:

Yup’ik is an Eskimo-Aleut language which is spoken by about 10,000 Natives in Alaska. Since the mid-1970s, educational programs have been implemented to revive and sustain the language. The University of Alaska Fairbanks offers a bachelors degree in Yup’ik language and culture and in Yup’ik Eskimo, as well as Associates Degrees in Native Language Education, with a concentration in Yup’ik, and in Yup’ik Language Proficiency.