White legislators, Indian mascots, and legalizing racism

July 23, 2011

The North Dakota legislature recently passed a law to force the University of North Dakota to keep its Fighting Sioux mascot.  The University, which was set to comply with N.C.A.A. requirements that prohibit such mascot use, now faces either N.C.A.A. penalties or consequences for breaking state law.

North Dakota senator JoNell Bakke points out that in this same legislative session, there were votes along party lines, against bills that would preserve American Indian languages, fund a director of Indian education, and provide coordination and consultation with tribal governments.

It appears to me that the Republicans feel that they should be able to use the Native American name but don’t think it is necessary to support legislation that would preserve the heritage of the Native American culture, improve the education of their children or improve the quality of life on the reservation. These bills would have cost less than $340,000 which the state can well afford, given the extra 40 million that was found in the budget surplus. Seems pretty hypocritical to me. Indians make good mascots, but we don’t care about their language, education, nor do we want to talk to them

Erich Longie, a Spirit Lake Sioux tribe member who has fought against the nickname and logo, expressed his disappointment in the bill:

I had hoped the Senate would put a stop to this racist practice, but instead they have decided to legalize this racism. No wonder some of my colleagues elsewhere are calling North Dakota ‘the Mississippi of the north.’ North Dakota passes Fighting Sioux nickname bill

The rationale given by legislators who supported forcing the mascot use is that old code phrase “we have a lot of support from people for this,” also known as we have a lot of white people in power who think they know best.

As an educator, I hope the University breaks the law and the law gets tested in the courts to challenge the perceptions of those who want to think racism is no longer a problem in our country. There are students watching and I’m greatly disturbed at what the legislature wants to teach them.

One comment

  1. it really is a wonder that some people think we are in a “post-racial” era. No way, no how. thank you for sharing this story to those of us who had missed it.

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