Native Americans have a history of being marginalised and mistreated in the United States. As a result, there is a heightened sensitivity to negative portrayals of their culture and we have the responsibility to avoid compounding the damage by negatively portraying them in pop culture.
Given the historical baggage associated with words like ‘brave’, ‘squaw’ and ‘warpath’, sports teams should be sensitive to the implications of using these words and the impact they have on the Native American community. For example, the word ‘squaw’ has been used throughout history as a derogatory term for a Native American female. The origins of the word, from the Massachusett Algonquian tribe, meaning ‘female’ may have been inoffensive, but its historical use and the baggage associated with the word mean that it is no longer an inoffensive term. There is also ample historical baggage attached to the stereotype that Native Americans are brave, warmongering people. The stereotype of Native Americans being war-like, with a ferocious battle ethic and dogged determination for victory, was used to justify genocidal acts of violence at the hands of the US government. Because of the historical baggage associated with depicting Native Americans in this way, sports teams should be more sensitive to the offence their names and mascots cause to the Native American people.
Native American people may have a history of being politically marginalized, but their abuse has not come from caricatures and nomenclature. The African American community would be perfectly entitled to take offence if a sports team adopted a caricature bearing an African American likeness as its mascot. African American features were deliberately mocked and caricatures were used as a repressive tool to dehumanise and marginalize the community. However, these have not been employed as tools to marginalize the Native American community. Therefore, the use of a Native American figure as a team’s mascot does not carry historical baggage that would make it offensive.
[P1] Historically, the US government used Native American stereotypes to justify genocide. [P2] These same stereotypes are now being used by sports teams. [P3] Their historical baggage makes them offensive, even if the terms and depictions are not offensive on their own.