KOLA statement opposing Native mascots (1998)

Brussels, 26 January 1998

Honorable Ladies, Gentlemen,

As an international human rights organization, KOLA wishes to express its grave concern and its opposition to the use of racist mascots and names in the United States of America. For the past several years, there has been an increasing wave of controversy regarding the names of professional sports teams - mostly university teams – such as the Atlanta "Braves", the Cleveland "Indians", the Washington "Redskins", and Kansas City "Chiefs". The issue extends to the names of college teams like the Florida State University "Seminoles", the University of Illinois "Chief Illiniwek", and so on, right on down to high school outfits like the Lamar (Colorado) "Savages".

Also involved are sports teams adoption of mascots, replete with feathers, buckskin dress, beads, spears, warclubs ("tomahawks") and so-called warpaint, brought to life usually by a Euro-American (read "white") student before, during and after the sports games.

The use of such mascots and logos raises bitter feelings about the American Indian "holocaust" in the not very distant past. For example, "Redskins" refers to the bloody scalps of American Indian men, women, and children taken for bounty. Too many people do not realize the depth of feeling invoked in Native Americans by the hurtful use of those "symbols". Also, the inappropriate use of feathers, headdress and other "Indian" symbols which are sacred to Native people, is an expression of total ignorance of the beliefs and customs of First National people, as well as a total lack of respect. Disrespect in these cases is equal to racism. To illustrate this subtle form of racism, KOLA wishes to present "Chief Illiniwek", used as mascot and logo by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Enclosed you will find letters from people – professors, students, American Indian human rights activists – opposing the use of this racist mascot. The enclosed material will, hopefully, convince you of the seriousness of this matter.

It is incomprehensible and totally unacceptable that academic institutions, whose primary goal is to educate the intelligentsia of the future, maintain such attitudes. Every business, athletic organization, and education institution should immediately and gracefully find a new mascot and logo. Every government agency – not exclusively in the United States! – and board of education should insist upon it. Every citizen – not exclusively in the United States! – respectful of others' feelings should demand change.

Since the Board of Trustees of UIUC is unwilling to do so, and the State of Illinois has never intervened in this issue, we saw ourselves obliged to take this matter further and bring it to your attention. What is desperately needed in this case, to set an example, is an intervention from outside political and human rights institutions. Any intervention from your part might bring changes to these racist practices: by personal letters, institutional letters, resolutions, and so forth.

Elise Herten
Executive Director KOLA

- END -