May 13, 2012

Indian place names = mascots

Stephen Bridenstine connects Indian places names and Indian mascots in his Drawing on Indians blog:

Lenawee, Tecumseh, Indians: Drawing Three Deep in MichiganAmericans have always been obsessed with giving things Indian names. At least twenty-one states draw their names from Indian origins and the list of counties, cities, and towns that do likewise goes on forever.

I believe that this process of Indian place-naming ties into broader issues of myth-making and identity in American history. From the earliest days of our young Republic, Americans have used the Indian as a proxy to authenticate their claim to this landscape and define themselves as Americans. Indian place names inherently bring with them all the popular notions and qualities of "Indianness"--the same qualities we want in ourselves and our land.

The same is true with mascots. People choose Indian mascots not because they are "honoring Native Americans" but rather to invoke that very essence of Indianness (or at least one version of it). That means strength, honor, pride, and a "savage" nature perfectly suited for the football field. The problem with these mascots is that they perpetuate one-dimensional stereotypes and undermine the ability of American Indian Nations to portray accurate and respectful images of their culture, spirituality, and traditions.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Mythical Indian = "National Mascot" and Americans = Wandering Strangers.

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