Put an end to Chief Waubonsie

Chief Waubonsie underwent a redesign to become cleaner and more modernized. This is only in the aesthetic sense because the use of the mascot is still antiquated and morally stained. The redesigned logo is featured above.

Chief Waubonsie underwent a redesign to become cleaner and more modernized. This is only in the aesthetic sense because the use of the mascot is still antiquated and morally stained. The redesigned logo is featured above.

Orion Elrod, News & Copy Editor

Waubonsie Valley High School was founded in 1975, 43 years ago. Although the commodification of Native Americans has never been and will never be appropriate, Chief Waubonsie was a sign of an era when blatantly ignoring and disrespecting marginalized people was the societal norm. However, states like Oregon beginning to ban the use of all Native American mascots by public schools demonstrate that the antiquated notion of using a culture as a mascot is no longer accepted.  It is time for Illinois to listen to the voices of Native Americans and follow suit.

A common argument for the continued usage of Native American mascots is that the practice honors Indigenous people and their heritage. This is decidedly not true. As Barbara Munson writes for the Wisconsin Indian Education Association, Native people do not feel honor as a result of the harmful practice of utilizing their perceived culture as a team’s emblem. Instead, they “experience it as no less than a mockery of [their] cultures. [They] see objects sacred to [them] – such as the drum, eagle feathers, face painting and traditional dress – being used, not in sacred ceremony, or in any cultural setting, but in another culture’s game.” Even when Native people themselves are not being used, the incorporation of items sacred to their culture in team rituals trivializes and diminishes the true importance that the original traditions hold. When the Waubonsie Valley football team enters the field by running through the inflatable headdress that they had custom-made, they are perpetrators of this trivialization.

If teams were truly trying to honor or preserve the culture of Native Americans, they would not ignore the voices of the Indigenous people whom they claim to be respecting. Instead of listening to the voices present within the community they are working to marginalize, they continuously perpetuate stereotypes without regard for the negative impact of their actions.

According to a report completed by clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Friedman, “tests have shown that the presence of Native American mascots results directly in lower self-esteem and lower mood within this population, as well as increased negative associations of Native Americans among non-Native American groups.”  The results are the same regardless of whether or not the mascot is intended to “honor” Native Americans. Teams such as the Seattle Thunderbirds, Chicago Blackhawks and, closer to home, the Waubonsie Warriors, perpetuate damaging stereotypes every year.

Utilizing an entire group of people as a mascot reduces them to a caricature of what they truly are–  a summation of the stereotypes their oppressors have assigned them rather than the complex set of cultures present within various tribes and the individuals a part of them.  When Native Americans are used as mascots, they are often depicted as violent warriors, preparing to go into battle. Although that is a part of Native history, it does not give a holistic view of the culture. Munson, a woman of the Oneida Nation, explains that “depictions of mighty warriors of the past emphasize a tragic part of [Native] history; focusing on wartime survival, they ignore the strength and beauty of [Native] cultures during times of peace. Many Indian cultures view life as a spiritual journey filled with lessons to be learned from every experience and from every living being.”

European colonizers, who later became the United States, initiated conflict with Native Americans, turning their misconceptions of the Indigenous peoples’ war-like nature into a self-fulfilling prophecy when they forced the tribes to defend themselves. This stereotype was created by the same people who are now defending it through ‘respectful’ mascots.

Though there will always be people that argue the practice of using a culture as a mascot is acceptable, the only counterargument necessary is explained by Munson: “Our people died tragically in wars motivated by greed for our lands. Our peoples have experienced forced removal and systematic genocide. Our warriors gave their sacred lives in often vain attempts to protect the land and preserve the culture for future generations. Football is a game.”