Letter to the editor: It’s time to retire Native mascots in Iowa and beyond

Sigourney Community School District in Keokuk County, Iowa has “the Savages” (widely considered a slur) as their district mascot, paired with stereotypical Native American imagery. — SCSD

By Patrick Bigsby, commissioner of the Iowa Commission on Native American Affairs

In NFL stadiums and in the high school bleachers of Colorado, Michigan, Maine, Florida, Washington, and every state in between, we have witnessed an evolution in mainstream views on the use of Native American mascots, nicknames and imagery. Our Iowa school districts and communities have an opportunity to be on the forefront of this movement and should likewise evolve beyond the use of Native mascots.

The use of Native symbols and likenesses is inarguably degrading and hurtful to Native people, who are forced to see themselves reduced to mere caricatures and forced to see their cultures co-opted for purposes divorced from Native self-determination. For nearly 30 years, mental health professionals have noted that the use of Native mascots is measurably detrimental to Native people. For this reason, agencies like the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the American Sociological Association, the Modern Language Association, the National Education Association, the American Psychological Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have adopted rules intended to eliminate or discourage the use of Native mascots. Continued use of Native mascots in light of this recognized harm simply has no place in the just society that Iowa’s schools are designed to foster.

Additionally, the use of Native mascots is contrary to Iowa’s reputation for offering students a world-class education. The use of Native team nicknames gives students and fans the impression that Native people are purely historical or even fictional. Although many Iowans might only be familiar with Native people from depictions in western films and elsewhere in popular culture, Iowa’s Native population comprises more than 16,000 people. This number has grown substantially over the past two decades and reflects a population that is younger, on average, than Iowa’s total population and resides mostly in Iowa’s urban areas. Natives are not consigned to history books or a distant frontier; they are your neighbors and a vital, thriving segment of Iowa’s population. There is no reason to undermine schools’ efforts to produce informed citizens by encouraging an inaccurate view of Native people in our student bodies and communities through the continued use of Native mascots.

We at the Iowa Commission on Native American Affairs encourage you to consider the harms and risks associated with the use of Native mascots, nicknames and imagery. Permanent removal of these outdated symbols is necessary to ensure Iowa’s schools retain their reputation as some of the nation’s best and continue our tradition of equitable and thoughtful education. We urge you to join leaders in education from across the country and adopt a policy banning Native mascots, nicknames and imagery from your schools and school districts.

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