Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Debate swirls around Native American mascots

By CHRISTINE HOMAN
Capital News Service

LANSING – The Civil Rights Commission will soon be examining its stance on Native American mascots.

At its May 24 meeting, the commission is scheduled to discuss the issue and decide whether to take action.

In 2002, it passed a resolution condemning the use of Native American mascots, but at the upcoming meeting, the commission will consider whether to issue a declaratory ruling that indicates how it would deal with the question in the future.

“As we grow more sensitive and understanding, there are certain practices we’ll have to examine,” said Harold Core, director of public relations for the Department of Civil Rights.

Opponents of using Native American mascots and nicknames for schools and colleges say they’re offensive and in some cases racist.

Core gave the example of the nickname Redskins, which many critics of Native American mascots consider a racial slur.

But those who support continued use of such mascots say they honor Native American history, culture and people.

John Johnson, communications director for the Michigan High School Athletic Association, said schools should choose mascots carefully and make sure they’re being respectful if they choose a Native American mascot or nickname.

The debate over Native American mascots is not new in Michigan, but a recent controversy in Lenawee County has drawn renewed attention to it.

Alumni of the Clinton Community Schools have been petitioned the district to change its mascot’s name from Redskins because they feel it is offensive.

Native American students at other schools are concerned as well.

Joshua Hudson, a junior at Central Michigan University and a Native American, said he dislikes Central’s Chippewa mascot.

Hudson took action last semester when he saw an ad for the school bookstore he considered offensive in the student newspaper. The ad contained a picture of a woman whose face was painted in a manner similar to one used in traditional Native American dance. The face paint design is considered sacred.

The ad was brought to the attention of the administration, which Hudson said was unresponsive at first. That ultimately led to a forum last November to discuss the Chippewa nickname.

Hudson said he didn’t have a problem with the nickname before last fall but would like to see it changed.

“No matter how much somebody tells me that they’re doing it to honor my people, to honor my heritage, you really can’t honor it if you’re not talking to me about it,” said Hudson. “And when I try to talk to you about it and you ignore me, you’re obviously not honoring me and you’re not honoring my people.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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