January 12, 2013

Avon buys generic "Brave" statue

New ‘Brave’ statue looks over Avon football field

By Meghan HerlihyChristmas came early for Avon Central School and the entire ACS community.

After four years of dedication and hard work, the school finally managed to purchase and install a 15-foot high bronze statue of a Native American “Brave” that is now on display by the southeast end of the school’s football field.

The process of acquiring this statue started with Avon local Bill Zhe, who had spotted the statue at a local shop in town back in June 2008. Zhe and fellow Avon local Sandy Irish decided to approach Avon’s superintendent Bruce Amey about purchasing the statue and possibly displaying it as their mascot on school grounds.

“The statue was down at the Avon Trading Post and Jim Jerris owned it,” said Irish. “We saw it down there and Bill Zhe and I talked to Jim to see how much he would sell it to us for. The selling price was actually $16,000—and he had sold a similar statue for that amount—but said he would give it to us for only $12,000, which I thought was pretty generous. So at that point, which was in June of 2008, is when we started raising the $12,000 we needed to buy the statue.”
And:Irish also said that she was not surprised by the generous contributions of the community.

“I think probably because we’re the Avon Braves, here was a great statue that was a ‘Brave’ that could be like a mascot,” Irish said. “So I think a lot of people that had maybe played in Avon sports were excited to see the Brave there, not just for football, but by the track field and everything too. So I think it represents Avon, all the students, the teachers, and the faculty. We’re the Avon Braves, and now we’ve got a Brave that we can say, ‘Hey, here’s our mascot.’”

Amey summed everything up by saying that he hopes—and expects—the new statue to become a part of school lore and tradition.

“Our students are extremely proud to be Braves and our intention more than likely for next year during a football game, when we have a good crowd, will be to do some level of dedication towards that and I think that will encourage a huge sense of school spirit,” Amey said. “I can picture homecoming next year with a lot of students participating not only in the game but activities during Spirit Week where the Brave statue will likely have an integral part of that. I have nothing to do with planning Spirit Week, per se, but at the same time I can see students really having such pride in it.”

The story takes place in upstate New York, an area that's home to several tribes. Yet the people in the article seem blissfully unaware that Indians might object to this mascot.

The region's newspaper understands what the local boosters don't:

Avon ‘Brave’ sculpture does disservice to Native American cultureSince the 1960s, there has been a discussion about if these depictions of Native Americans are appropriate—with many leaders in the community arguing that these images, intentionally or not, reduce a rich and oftentimes disappearing culture into a caricature.

Mascots have the power to rob a people of their personhood and turn them into a cartoon.

Having recently read the LCN’s article about Avon Central School acquiring a statue of a ‘Brave,’ I am concerned this will ultimately perpetuate a negative stereotype of Native Americans.

I grew up in Livingston County and worked as an educator in the local schools for three years. It’s exciting how open-minded the youth in our community have become. Unfortunately, the acquisition of this statue, apparently uncritically, teaches our children to view another group of people as one-dimensional.

This ultimately undermines both the potential and integrity of our communities. The American Psychological Association released a position statement in 2005 recommending the retirement of American Indians as school mascots.

In short, American Indian Mascots can limit a child’s potential to appreciate another culture as well as silence those that are members of that culture.
Comment:  Artistically, the statue isn't bad. But the headband with feathers, the braids, and especially the tomahawk combine to make the Indian look savage.

Moreover, he's half-naked in a snowstorm, which suggests why this look is wrong. A real Indian would wear a shirt in this kind of weather. Shirtless implies he has an animal-like constitution.

I'm not sure any of the area's Indians ever looked like this statue. It could be a "brave" from the Great Lakes, the Plains, or anywhere. Really, it seems like a generic romanticized Indian. Its lack of identifying characteristics is part of the problem.

Even if the statue is culturally appropriate for upstate New York, it's still stereotypical. Why? Because Indians don't look like that these days. Like a million other stereotypical images, it's projecting the notion that Indians are dead and gone--i.e., primitive people of the past.

The editorial is right. This statue reduces Indians to a one-dimensional cartoon. Don't let the realism fool you. It's really no different from the image below, which is also a one-dimensional cartoon. It's wrong for the same reasons.

And the naivete of launching a stereotypical mascot "tradition" in this era is breathtaking. Really, not a single person thought, "What if Indians protest this mascot as they have so many others? What if New York state passes a laws banning such mascots? Is it worth a $12,000 gamble to have a mascot that was bland and unoriginal a hundred years ago?"

For more on Indian monuments, see Indian Statue for Staten Island and Generic Statue Represents Ghostly Kickapoo.

No comments: