January 13, 2007

"Chiefs" and "Maidens" must go

Ronan Indian mascots called into questionThere is reasonable cause to believe the Ronan School District has engaged in unlawful discrimination based on race by calling its sports teams the Chiefs and Maidens, the Montana Human Rights Bureau has ruled.

It's the first victory for Francine Dupuis, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes who has been fighting use of the names at Ronan--and the use of American Indian imagery at athletic events--since 2003.
So what's the problem wtih these names?Dupuis argued, in Benedict's report, that “a chief is a revered and respected member of the tribe, 'not someone who dresses up in feathers and runs around the field.' Eagle feathers are given for achievement, such as getting one's first deer while hunting, or upon graduating from school. Feathers are not to be used for costume or to dress mascots. Dupuis' grandfathers were tribal chiefs, and they 'were by no means mascots.' ”

Maidens, in the Salish and Kootenai culture, are considered virgins and “less than women” according to Joyce Silverthorne, director of the CSKT Education Department and a witness for Dupuis.
And what exactly is wrong with (mis)using elements of Salish and Kootenai culture?“I find the use or publication of 'Chiefs' and 'Maidens' as mascots distinguishes Native American culture from other cultures,” she said. “That distinction is based on race. The use of such mascots limits the way in which 'Chiefs' and 'Maidens' are perceived to a generalized stereotype, rather than portraying the true meaning of Chiefs and Maidens in Native American culture.

“When used as team names or mascots, the terms and images of 'Chiefs' and 'Maidens' are reduced to monolithic portrayals that disrespect the complex religious and historical meanings of real and honored figures. The use of feathers, as displayed on the gymnasium floor, trivializes the sacred meaning such feathers have in Native American religious ceremonies. Such names and images teach all students, regardless of race, that stereotyping and trivializing another culture's beliefs is acceptable. As stated by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 'Schools have a responsibility to educate their students; they should not use their influence to perpetuate misrepresentations of any culture or people.' ”

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