Mascot Protest Spurs Continued Momentum
Friday, January 09 2015
Written by Art Coulson,
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mascot protest spurs continued momentum-tcf crowd-web.jpgIn the weeks since thousands of native people and their allies converged on TCF Stadium to protest the Washington NFL team’s offensive name, those involved in the #NotYourMascot march and rally have continued the conversation with a focus on maintaining momentum toward a name change.

“Five hundred and twenty-two years of stereotypes is difficult to eradicate,” Robert DesJarlait, a Red Lake elder, said. He carried the eagle staff to lead the People’s March from the American Indian OIC to the stadium on the University of Minnesota campus on Nov. 2 as an organizer for Save Our Manoomin. “We need to use education as a means of dislodging decades of stereotypes. [Washington owner Daniel] Snyder's team is just the starting point. But it's the beginning of the process to eradicate such imagery and restore pride and human dignity to Native people.”

Organizers of the march said while the Washington team name is the most racially offensive, their battle to end the use of native mascots in sport does not end there.

“We need to go after not just the NFL, but the NHL and major-league baseball also,” Jason Elias, a march organizer and member of AIM-Twin Cities said. “I think it's too bad we missed an opportunity this last summer to protest the All-Star game when it was here in Minneapolis. One thing I would like to say is that I would like to give credit and thank Vernon Bellecourt who is the founding father in the fight against Native mascots. He truly deserves the credit.”

Elias plans to continue the battle by focusing on schools and using anti-bullying policies to target those who wear native mascot gear to school.

#NotYourMascot is a coalition of grassroots organizations including Idle No More-Twin Cities, AIM-Twin Cities, AIM Patrol of Minneapolis, United Urban Warrior Society, Idle No More-Wisconsin, Protect Our Manoomin, Twin Cities Save the Kids, Minnesota Two Spirit Society and several other organizations.

The march and rally for the Minnesota-Washington football game, which drew a crowd of between 3,500 and 5,000 people from across North America who marched on the stadium from several directions, was the largest so far to protest the use of native mascots by sports teams. Organizers vowed to protest at each of the remaining Washington football games this season. On Nov. 23, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in San Francisco before the San Francisco-Washington game.

Opposition to the Washington team name includes numerous tribal organizations and tribal leaders, the National Congress of American Indians, the U.S. Congress, President Barack Obama, civil rights and religious groups, players and former players. Representatives of most of these groups spoke at the Minneapolis rally.

“I think the thing that struck me the most while I was marching was the notion that this was, in essence, a civil rights march,” DesJarlait said. “We were marching against discrimination, in particular, discriminatory imagery that is not only evoked by Dan Snyder, but discriminatory imagery that is embedded in the history between Euro-Americans and Native Americans … One approach to maintain pressure on Dan Snyder is to establish a nationwide alliance – an alliance that is inclusive of all the various anti-mascot organizations and also include non-Native groups. If more emphasis is placed on civil rights, public support would broaden. At present, Snyder doesn't accept that his team's name is racist. But the dynamics of civil rights would force the issue of the racism that is inherent in the team's name.”

Yvonne Barrett, Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe and her daughter, Mika, joined the march that began at Northrup Auditorium. She was struck by the number of fans entering the game who pushed back at the protest.

“At the TCF stadium, the group walked past several football fans – both for Minnesota and Washington. I overheard one Vikings fan say to a rally participant, ‘I don’t know what you guys are making a big deal about. They’ve had the mascot for years. It’s tradition.’ Obviously, he has a different frame of reference for what tradition means,” she said. “The rally made my daughter and I feel a lot of pride for being part of a community that doesn’t tolerate racist stereotypes in sports media and is speaking up.”

Jase Roe, who helped organize the rally and march for the Minnesota Two Spirit Society, said racist mascots are a symptom of a deeper issue. “I grew up being ashamed of who I was,” he told the crowd gathered at American Indian OIC before the two and a half-mile march. “For many of us today, it’s more than a mascot or a name. It’s about taking pride in who we are.”

After the rally, Barrett called on leaders who spoke that day to continue the fight.

Speakers at the rally included leaders of many native nations from Minnesota and elsewhere, members of Congress, former NFL players, the mayor of Minneapolis and representatives of national groups such as the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media.

“The march definitely brought the community together. I saw so many individuals, families and community organizations come together to have a united voice about the mascot issue,” Barrett said. “I hope that the enthusiasm and spirit of the day doesn’t end with the rally. We need to have the leaders that were present continue to push the issue forward.”

Art Coulson, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a veteran journalist and author who lives in the Twin Cities.


PHOTO: Two rallies converged on TCF Stadium on Nov. 2 to protest the Washington NFL team's mascot. Former Minnesota Vikings player Joey Browner addressed the crowd to speak about his Native roots and his objection to the mascot. (Photo by Alfred Walking Bull)


EDITOR'S NOTE: The National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media organized the rally that began at TCF Stadium. The #NotYourMascot march was organized by a coalition of grassroots organizations not formally affiliated with NCARSM.

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