My race and ethnicity class is discussing American Indian team mascots today, so I thought I’d put up some images of a few. There are many, many more than what I have here (think of every high school with teams called the Redskins), but these are some of the most often discussed.

This is the logo (found here) of the University of Illinois’s sports teams, the Fighting Illini, named after the Illini tribe (really a confederation of tribes such as the Peoria) originally inhabiting the area:

Each year a student is chosen to represent Chief Illini at sports events. The student wears what is described as “traditional” Indian clothing and until recently performed dance routines that have nothing whatsoever in common with anything I’ve ever seen at a powwow. Here is a student dressed up as Chief Illini (found here):

I found this video on youtube of Chief Illini’s “last dance,” meaning his last performance at an official NCAA-sponsored sporting event:

Last I heard the University of Illinois bowed to decades of pressure and has retired the embodiment of the mascot. They apparently no longer have a Chief Illini (a man who dresses up like an American Indian and jumps around), but they have retained the “Fighting Illini” language.

UPDATE: Not so fast.  Resist Racism has a great summary of how the University is keeping Chief Illini around even after retiring him.

The University of North Dakota’s mascot is the Fighting Sioux (found here):

Florida State’s teams are the Seminoles; here is a student representing the team at a game (found here):

Here is the Florida State NCAA logo (found here):

This is the original Chief Wahoo, the mascot for the Cleveland Indians (found at Wikipedia). According to Wikipedia, it was used from 1946 to about 1950.

Here is the updated Chief Wahoo (found here):

A quote from the Wikipedia entry on Chief Wahoo:

According to polling results published in Sports Illustrated, “Although most Native American activists and tribal leaders consider Indian team names and mascots offensive, neither Native Americans in general nor a cross section of U.S. sports fans agree.”[9] According to the article, “There is a near total disconnect between Indian activists and the Native American population on this issue.”[9]However, the results of the poll have been criticized due to Sport’s Illustrated’s refusal to provide polling information (i.e. how participants were recruited and contacted, if they were concentrated in one region, if one ethnic group is over represented and the exact wording and order of questions).[10]

Here is a link to an article by King et al. discussing both the discourse in and the methodology of the Sports Illustrated article (in the March 4, 2002 issue).

Here is a website with lots of cartoons related to the issue of American Indian mascots, and the documentary “In Whose Honor?” looks at the protests surrounding Chief Illini.

The February 2004 issue of Journal of Sport & Social Issues (vol. 28 issue 1) has several very good articles about American Indian mascots that I’ve used in both race and sport classes when we talk about the continued use of caricatures and other portrayals of American Indians and why they are viewed differently than, say, an old Mammie-type image of African Americans. We also always discuss discourses surrounding American Indian mascots, particularly the idea that they honor or respect American Indians, and the selective use of certain American Indian voices to invalidate critiques of Indian mascots. Who gets to be Indian for the purposes of speaking about whether or not Indians resent the mascots? Why do non-Indians feel a special attachment to, and often identify with, these images? Does it really matter whether or not most American Indians personally oppose the mascots–is that the issue here?

The Sports Illustrated article could also be good for a discussion of methodology and the scientific method; the fact that the magazine would not release information on their methodology violates the very spirit of scientific inquiry (the ability to replicate others’ work to check its validity, as well as open sharing of information).

For other examples of the use of images of American Indians, see here and here.

This cartoon suggests that the idea that these mascots are a way of honoring American Indians is pretty absurd.

NEW! Brady P. sent in this image that questions why American Indian mascots are acceptable when most people would define the mascots that caricature other groups as patently offensive:


Of course, there is a Dutch soccer team called The Jews.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.