A look at the impact of Indian logos and mascots
Hurtful and confusing imagery
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 2 of 2
When the WIAA held its football championship games at Camp Randall earlier this month, the fans of some of the teams came adorned
with sweatshirts that prominently carried the depiction of the head of an American Indian chief as a team logo. While the logo may symbolize
school pride for the students, parents, community members and alumni of the school — some thinking the terms fighting and fierce are
positive attributes for American Indians — the logos are source of pain and confusion for American Indian students who attend those
schools, especially because there is so little countervailing information about American Indians offered in the schools.
While Indian mascots and logos are inherently offensive to many American Indians, they are also harmful because they promote
stereotypes that get in the way of many people understanding the diversity of the American Indian community. “American Indian mascots in k-
12 environments often teach ignorance,” said Aaron Bird Bear, a UW-Madison staff person. “That may not be the intent, but that is what ends
up happening. You see it over and over again. As I wrote recently to our athletic board, the American Psychological Association, the
American Sociological Association and every representative body for American Indians such as the National Congress of American Indians,
the National Indian Education Association, the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council and the Wisconsin Indian Education Association have come
out against mascots and hopefully retiring them from the roles they have in public education environments. If we don’t listen to our mental
health and research bodies or people advocating for American Indians, then who do we listen to in regards to American Indian mascots.”
What doesn’t get taught to Native and non-Native students alike is the diversity of the American Indian community. “American Indians
are very diverse,” said Tim Fish a UW-Madison student and co-chair of Wunk Sheek. “There are over 547 Indian nations in North America.
Each one of them is unique, whether it’s their spiritual beliefs or traditional beliefs. There are unique things that make up each tribe or nation.
We try not to stereotype and we don’t like to be stereotyped. I try to help educate people in order to eliminate those stereotypes and get rid of
the idea of the token Indian, if you will.”
For Raeanne Funmaker, also a UW-Madison student and co-chair of Wunk Sheek, it was a culture shock coming to Madison for school.
“I came from a reservation, the Oneida reservation, and I went to a tribal school from kindergarten through high school,” Funmaker said. “I
was raised in these ways. And then I come here and I realized how much people have no idea about accurate Native American history.
History is never written by the losers. History is only reported by the winners. So do you truly think there would be that balanced viewpoint
and knowledge and understanding taught? Unless people have experience, one to one dialogue, with a Native American person, they won’t
There is statutory language in Wisconsin law that directs school districts to provide some instruction about American Indians, but its
actual implementation is uneven. “The Wisconsin state statute, commonly known as Act 31, was passed as a part of a 1989-1991 biennial
budget states that in public school, you have to teach American Indian history, culture and sovereignty at least twice in the elementary
grades and once in high school,” said Ryan Comfort, a UW educator. “And that’s about the extent of the curriculum. A lot of people will make
a trip to the museum. Sometimes they will teach Blackhawk, which doesn’t meet the statutory requirements. There is just very little
knowledge and information out there in the public schools. There are some very good educators who are trying to and making very strong
efforts. Part of our challenge is to get good knowledge out there, to get educators, schools and communities to utilize the tribal resources
nearest them. A lot of tribal nations have libraries and museums, historical preservation committees and cultural communities. They are
producing educational materials. How do we get those into the schools where we have these mascot and logo issues? How do we start
substituting this bad toolbox of knowledge with a good set of tools created by tribal nations?”
For Funmaker, it isn’t just teaching students about who American Indians were. It is just as important to teach them about who
American Indians are in the present. “Native Americans live just the same as other people, Funmaker said. “We live on a reservation. Yes
our history is different. But we grow and change with the times just like everyone else. I introduced myself as Native American one time and
someone said ‘I thought your people were extinct.’ A lot of people don’t know and they don’t take that extra step to learn a little bit more. We’
re here and we’re trying to educate people now. We can’t focus on the past. We’re just trying to focus on the future and trying to help people
learn more about our beliefs, history and culture as well as learn from others.”
While there are still many Wisconsin high schools that use Indian mascots and logos, Bird Bear is optimistic. “I think higher education
has come a long ways in the 40 years when American Indian mascots were first being retired in higher education environments,” he said.
“As with anything in higher education, it takes a while for things to trickle down to the k-12 environment. I see a lot of positive outlook in the
near future for the hopeful retirement of all use of American Indian mascots. It’s complicated like any educational process. But I see a lot of
traction in my own lifetime. I’m very excited.”
From left to right: Raeanne Funmaker (l) and Tim Fish, Ryan Comfort and Aaron Bird Bear