High Schools Wrestle With Warrior Imagery

The Native American portrayals for team mascots can do damage, advocates say
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 9, 2020 11:15 AM CDT
High Schools Still Have Warriors, Braves
Lemiley Lane, a junior, stands before Bountiful High School.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

At a mostly white high school near Salt Lake City, steps leading to the football field are covered in red handprints, arrows and drawings of Native American men in headdresses meant to represent the mascot, the Braves. "Welcome to the Dark Side" and "Fight like a Brave" are scrawled next to images of teepees, a tomahawk, and a dream catcher, the AP reports. While advocates have gotten some Native American symbols and names changed in sports, they say there's still work to do, mainly at the high school level, where Braves, Indians, Warriors, Chiefs and Redskins persist. At Bountiful High School, there's nostalgia for the Braves name that's been used for nearly 70 years and comes with an informal mascot—a student dressed in feathers. Fans point to tradition when rhythmically extending their forearms for the tomahawk chop, wearing face paint and chanting at football games. It's an honor, they say, but not to many who see the portrayals throughout high school, collegiate and professional sports.

The mascots can affect the psyches of young Native Americans and create the image of a monolith that doesn't exist, advocates say. "There is no tribe that can make a claim to it," said James Singer of the Utah League of Native American Voters. It's not clear how many high schools have built their team imagery around Native Americans, but advocates say it's in the hundreds—down significantly from decades ago. "I understand the issue, and then at the same time, you just have to listen to the students who take pride in this but give them the information about why the other side is concerned, too," said an Arizona school board member who is Navajo. A Missouri town is divided about its Savannah Savages. Savannah was built on land that once belonged to Native American tribes, per the AP. Now the high school's mascot is depicted all over town. One graduate said the image made her "feel ill" when she was in school. After years of informal debate, the issue has reached the school board for the first time.

(More Native Americans stories.)

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