Lawmaker seeks to abolish American Indians as mascots

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Legislation proposed by U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (Sixth District, New Jersey) would set up a grant fund to help schools with Native American mascots to change mascots and remove any and all related logos and iconography.

The proposal focuses on expunging references to American Indians and envisions a grant program that would give schools money to buy new uniforms and repaint walls.

“There is mixed opinion in the American Indian community nationwide, but regionally, most of the tribes appear to be dead-set against American Indian mascots,” said John Norwood, a councilman of the Bridgeton-based Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Tribal Nation, which supports the bill. “It’s an awful thing to go to school and see a caricature of your people.”

Pallone’s bill classifies as derogatory, without requiring the consideration of a special federally appointed committee, four words: Braves, Chiefs, Indians and Redskins. All are in use in top-tier professional baseball or football, and two are attached to southern New Jersey schools. Pallone, the vice chair of the Native American caucus in the House, launched a virtually identical bill in 2002. It never saw a vote.

His fresh attempt Nov. 19 came on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear an American Indian-led challenge to the longstanding use of the name Washington Redskins in the National Football League.

“It has always been an issue with a lot of the tribes,” said Pallone, who represents the 6th District in northern New Jersey. “It’s going to take a long time to change minds. I think it’s an education process, and this bill would generally help.

Pallone said he was not sure how much money would be needed; the House Appropriations Committee would decide that, if the bill reaches that point.

“My hope is that as academic institutions are sensitized to the issue, they won’t want to have a negative impact on the psychological well-being of Native Americans in their region,” Norwood said.