American Indian College Fund’s Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull on
Mascots and Images
The Winds of Change
While continuing to work on her doctorate in
educational leadership at UW-Madison, Danyelle
Wright will be the planning principal at Cottage
Grove School in the 2020-2021 school year.
By Jonathan Gramling

During Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull’s 39 years working in tribally-controlled education, she has witnessed a lot of
change. A Sicangu Lakota citizen from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, Crazy Bull has helped
usher in that change as a school superintendent, college president and now as the head of the American
Indian College Fund.

“When I started working at Sinte Gleska University on my home reservation in 1981, many of the founders
of the tribal college movement were still living,” Crazy Bull said. “I had the opportunity to hear their vision,
which was quite revolutionary when you think about having place-based higher education institutions that
are focused on cultural restoration as well as educating people for managing and working with our own
resources and our own schools. That has always really inspired me to think of our education movement
as a revolutionary one.”
The American Indian College Fund has worked to help Native students be successful at all academic
levels.During Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull’s 39 years working in tribally-controlled education, she has witnessed
a lot of change. A Sicangu Lakota citizen from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, Crazy Bull has
helped usher in that change as a school superintendent, college president and now as the head of the
American Indian College Fund.

“When I started working at Sinte Gleska University on my home reservation in 1981, many of the founders
of the tribal college movement were still living,” Crazy Bull said. “I had the opportunity to hear their vision,
which was quite revolutionary when you think about having place-based higher education institutions that
are focused on cultural restoration as well as educating people for managing and working with our own
resources and our own schools. That has always really inspired me to think of our education movement
as a revolutionary one.”

The American Indian College Fund has worked to help Native students be successful at all academic
levels.
“The College Fund actually does a lot of work to support students with their success in college,” Crazy Bull said. “We provide a lot of coaching and career
education. We help the tribal colleges with ensuring that they have qualified faculty and other kinds of outreach programs. We have different things like Native arts.
We support tribal colleges with also telling their own story through public education. We also have a high school program at the College Fund. It’s called out
Pathways Program. We work with tribal high schools to help students and their families see themselves as college material and then help them apply to and
matriculate into college.”

And yet all of the good work of groups like the College Fund can be for naught if Native students face a hostile environment in school. And there is nothing that will
create a hostile environment more than Indian mascots and logos.

“Research has shown that Native children — and in particular youth — view mascots as harmful to their self-esteem and self-image,” Crazy Bull emphasized. “But
children, who are not Native, don’t see mascots in that same way. They see a mascots and images as being either something that they really haven’t given any
thought to or as honoring Native people. There is a real dichotomy, a real difference in how they are perceived and so they aren’t really challenging them for the
voice of Native people to influence those changes that are so needed with those images and those names.”

Imagery isn’t just essential for the well-being of Native students, it is important to all students in the development of their self-identity. And when a minority group
like American Indians do not have control over that imagery, it can have a devastating impact on that community.

“There is some really good research out there that really looks at the fact that images for all of us influence the way that we form our identity,” Crazy Bull said. “And
so when you have a mascots that are harmful, that contributes to looking at your own identity in a negative way. At the College Fund, we are joining many other
organizations — some of whom have been working with these issues for decades in amplifying the need to remove mascots both as names and the imagery
associated with them from particularly national sports teams and also on the college and high school level.”

While some in the majority — and those who control sports teams — feel they are honoring “positive” traits of American Indians, no matter what the motivation, they
are still stereotypical.

“I don’t think there is ever a time where a mascot or logo is okay,” Crazy Bull said. “I don’t see the need for a default to that kind of imagery when there are so many
other options that are available to schools and colleges and professional sports teams. There is actually a good op-ed piece written by Kevin Gover who is the
director of the National Museum of the American Indian that just came out about this very issue. He speaks to not defaulting to a positive image. We don’t want to be
honored in that way.”
Since Crazy Bull was interviewed, the Washington NFL team has
announced that it would be changing its mascot and imagery. While
the movement to remove mascots and logos has been long-standing,
it has gained a lot of traction in the aftermath of the George Floyd
murder and corporate involvement.

“I’m fine that there is a tipping point associated with an economic
response,” Crazy Bull said. “I do think that the intentions of
corporations and retailers are doing that are really rooted in their
desire to be inclusive and to recognize systemic racism and so they
are willing to do that. That’s forcing consideration of name changes by
not just the Washington team, but also by the Cleveland baseball
team. Perhaps others will too. I know that some of them are saying
that they aren’t going to. But with continued public pressure, I think we
could see changes by them as well.”

But Crazy Bull cautioned that we have a long ways to go and the
damage done does not end with the removal of the mascots and the
logos.

“I think it is really important for people to also look at how their
children and the young people in their families and maybe everyone in
their family being educated about indigenous people,” Crazy Bull said.
“We are a contemporary people. We have strong culture and history
and language. But we live today. And we want to be seen. And I think
oftentimes these issues would be addressed in a healthier way if we
had better education in the school systems and at the college level.
As an educator, I’m a big advocate for ensuring that we have
accurate representation in curriculum. And I think it would make
having these challenging discussions about imagery and mascots
less challenging because people would see why it is important to not
have these images.”

And with the call for the removal of mascots and logos, it doesn’t
mean that Native people should become invisible within our society.

“It’s about how you create a safe and welcoming environment for
students,” Crazy Bull said. “And one of the ways that you create that
safe and welcoming environment is to have accurate representation,
both have representation because oftentimes indigenous people are
invisible, but when they are visible, let’s have that representation be
images that are in fact appropriate and accurate.”

The winds of change are blowing hard in America, perhaps propelling
us to new ways to view and treat each other.