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Professor affirms effects of Indian mascots

| Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Stephanie Fryberg, a visiting professor of psychology at the University of Washington, presented her research Tuesday on the psychological effects of American Indian sports mascots, which affirmed these types of social representations depress the self-esteem of American Indian students.

Kelly Konya | The Observer
indians news graphic[/Keri O’Mara]

Fryberg’s lecture, titled “From Stereotyping to Invisibility: The Psychological Consequences of Using American Indian Mascots,” highlighted several studies she and her colleagues have performed.

In the studies, Fryberg asked questions to American Indian high school and college students based on several popular representations of Native Americans, including Disney’s Pocahontas and Chief Wahoo, the mascot of the Cleveland Indians.

Fryberg said the research did not begin with an examination of mascots, but the final product did reflect this focus.

“The first two studies, the question we asked was what is the impact of American Indian social representations on the self-esteem and community efficacy of American Indians,” she said. “You notice, the question was not what is the effect of American Indian mascots, though that is how this work has commonly been used and by the time we got to the third or fourth study, it is how we then framed the research paper because it became much more central to the social issue.”

After a close study of media portrayals of American Indians, Fryberg said representations were rare and largely negative in connotation.

“In a content analysis of national newspapers in 1997 and major films from 1999 to 2000, relatively few, 0.2 percent, of representations of American Indians were found,” she said. “The representations that were there were largely stereotypic and negative, and American Indians were seldom presented as contemporary people or in contemporary domains.”

To Fryberg and her colleagues’ surprise, she said the study showed a greater likelihood of American Indians to approve of Native American mascots.

“Surprisingly for us, we found that those who agree with the use of Indians as mascots actually have less community worth,” Fryberg said. “And this was particularly interesting to us because you’d like to think that if you agree with it, you must think it’s good, but actually following the psychology literature, it turns out that when you disagree with the stereotype, there are psychological resources that buffer you from the effects of that image.”

Fryberg said she and her team altered the study when they brought it to Haskell Indian Nations University.

“Going forward, we started to show this data and one of the issues that came up as we were showing the data is that Chief Wahoo is a caricature, and so maybe it would be different if we used a mascot that wasn’t a caricature,” she said. “And so for the last study, we were able to ask a number of questions because we went to the only four-year university that is a predominantly American Indian university, and it turns out they have an Indian mascot.”

All of the studies, though, concluded that essentially any American Indian mascot representations harmed the self-esteem of American Indian students, Fryberg said.

“Consistent with the past two studies, it turns out that being exposed to any one of these mascots decreased achievement-related possible selves,” she said. “So what it means is if they saw the Indian mascot, then any possible selves they had related to achievement in school were depressed.”

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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  • Holly James

    Great to see this discussion happening under the Dome!!!

  • Sonny Skyhawk

    You can conduct all the studies and surveys possible , but as a Native parent, I have first hand knowledge of the effects mascots have had on my children, and they have been everything but positive. It goes to lack of self esteem, self motivation and peer pressure. Life is difficult enough , and being a parent is a big enough job, than to have my child bear the ridicule and pain of being Indian .

    • Tom Shawl

      The majority of Native American are not offended by this. Polls that have been done reflect this showing that 80 to 90% of Natives saw nothing wrong with it. For the last 25 years I have polled various enrolled members of different tribes about this and only 1 in 10 were offended. I recently asked 2 high school, one junior high and a college class of Native Americans and only one student thought mascots were wrong. Whoever said Native Americans were offended by this is really far from the truth. We do not all think alike and are not all that sensitive.

      • AMendes

        Could you post a link to your peer reviewed research?

      • eugene herrod

        The poll to which you refer is over ten years old and used poor methodology that any freshman sociology student could critique. Personally, I would like to see your “poll” It doesn’t sound as though it has any merit. There is a more recent poll that indicated 67% of Natives were offended. By the way, what work on this subject have you published? Dr. Fryberg appears to know what she is doing.

        • Tom Shawl

          I lived on two reservations and have relatives living on 12. These were just personal poles that I did for myself. I understand that Urban Indians are more sensitive to the issue. All the Indians I asked were reservation Indians. The old time Indians were not offended because they had healthy egos. Some Indians are offended but others are not. This confuses the White People because they are hearing both sides. But i’m trying to have an open mind and understand the arguments. I see Indian kids wearing Redskin jersies all the time. One youth said he considered it to be a warrior name. There is a reason why some think it is a honor and some think it’s racist. we as Indian people need to talk this out and understand why. Thank You for your comments i appreciate them.

    • Liberal Baloney

      What ridicule and pain derived from what mascot??? Little kids ran up to her and made fun of her because Patrick Kane or RGIII played for a team that represented her culture… O, poor Patrick O’Malley proablly scarred for life from the Fighting Irish…

    • Try being a better parent

      Ok, so… your child has self esteem and self motivation issues and you’re choosing to blame a sports team located hundreds of miles away. Sure. It’s totally their fault.

      • Michael Bourbonnais

        We don’t blame moscots. Moscots, and the acceptance of them, are symptoms of racism within the dominant culture.

        • WilliamRLBaker

          hmmm then maybe the anti mascot folks should go after the 2k or so college, high school, and junior high teams with indian names? or how about all the highschools with near 100% Native America student population that still have Indian mascots, paraphernalia, and names.

          there is a major disconnect when we are seeing when it comes to Indian mascots, and names. The topic of big teams that makes loads of money is talked about but seemingly all the highschool, and junior high teams are ignored.

          • eugene herrod

            Mr. Baker, this issue has persisted for decades. Hundreds of high schools that have had Native mascots have dropped that imagery within the last four decades, or have you even studied this issue? “[H]ow about all the highschools(sic) with near 100% Native American student population…”[?] There is only one–Red Mesa in Arizona. Wellpinit High in Washington and Kingston High in Oklahoma do not have predominately Native student populations. So, what is your point of which you did little or no research?

          • disqus_PgdLd0QQyA

            In todays day an age there is a school in Delaware called Conrad High School which people have started a petition to keep “Redskin” as the team name. Their defense is that they don’t want liberals telling them what to do and the name means red earth. When I tried to explain to them that today it is a racial derogatory slur (for those who still believe in social construct of biological races) , they basically forced me away from a online community from where I grew up.

          • hereinWA

            LOL…no, it doesn’t mean red earth. Oklahoma means red earth…gawd, you missed by so far!

          • disqus_PgdLd0QQyA

            Redskin is not actually a Native word. Its and English word. Their argument is that since some of the past local tribes (Lenape, Nantickoke as examples) painted themselves with a juice of a berry and minerals from earth, and this makes it acceptable.

          • hereinWA

            They are claiming we called ourselves that. We. Did. Not.

          • disqus_PgdLd0QQyA

            Well, actually there is some revisionist history (not on the part of Europeans but Natv, Harjo as an example). Its got nothing to do with scalps in the Phipps proclamation. The ancestors used to describe each other by the term redskin, and the French traders made note that this is what they called themseves. You can read it here; http://anthropology.si.edu/goddard/redskin.pdf

          • hereinWA

            No, they didn’t. Some French dude misinterpreting does not make it true. We know ourselves, we know our people. And there were MANY places in the US that were paying money for the scalps of ‘redsk*ns’, THAT is HISTORIC FACT!

          • disqus_PgdLd0QQyA

            Well, all I can tell you is that I have Penobscot and Passamaquoddy family. The term “redskin” for bounty wasn’t attributed as such until 1749 by the English bounty against Micmaq, and 1755 when Spencer Phipps tried to wipe out Penobscot. Prior to that it was the word used by the tribes to differentiate thhe color pigmentation.

          • disqus_PgdLd0QQyA

            Its sort of like “white people” really was not a colonialist term. People did not become white in America until several decades later, in the developement of the racial cast system.

            My people are everywhere, since the beginning. The world is made of blood worship sacrificers mostly. These are tribal race / blood peoples. From the dawn of time they have tried to wipe us out, but have not been succesful. For this reason the blood cries out from the womb of the mother (from the Earth), and the Creator will only take so much.

          • disqus_PgdLd0QQyA

            There were also other tribes who painted themselves with red ochre (Canada comes to mind Nova Scotia and PEI both have abundance of red earth for facial amendment)), but many of those basically died off or were bound together with other tribal nations.

          • hereinWA

            But. They. Never. Called. Themselves. Red. Skins. And again, Oklahoma (as in the POINT of my post) means ‘red earth’.

          • WilliamRLBaker

            *comes in with claims, provides no evidence** bubub you did no research, *makes another claim provides no evidence* bububu you did no research.
            you sure seem to be throwing a lot of stuff around without providing any sources.
            1. those high schools changed because of pressure not because it was right or wrong, but because someone complained, usually that someone suffered a traumatic event in the past, and couldn’t see past their feelings to the considerations of every one else *including other native American’s since the removal of mascots will be just another step in the vanishing of native American’s most American’s couldn’t care less about them*
            2. welpint highschool is 67% native American, kingston when it was predominately native American had the red skins name and they didn’t change it.

            Simply put this is about feefee’s not what’s right or wrong, and certainly not about what’s good for native American’s because as I said If they ever get all native American themed mascots removed it will be just another step in the majority of America forgetting about them completely.

          • disqus_PgdLd0QQyA

            Its like, you know how some people tell French jokes or Polish jokes?
            Its real funny unless, you are constantly put down because your French or Polish. Same thing with Mascots, Redskins, Squaw etc . I don’t want my nieces nephews and their children thought of as redskins and squaws, or other relatives as stupid Frenchmen or dumb N WORD Lithuanians (like I was called as a child).

          • WilliamRLBaker

            Except the native Americans were known as that not only in non hateful ways but as a general term *lets hope you never ever ever use the word white person again that’s demeaning* but by your own peoples in some of the tribes.

            And please the entirety of the use of the word is not a negative, 100% of people, 90%, not even 50% use the word as a negative for native American’s just a identifier.
            Also of note as I said to Eugene lets hope the mascots are never removed because once they are its just one more step in the entire native American race fading into obscure background, maybe fight for something more important like the sovereign nation rights they were promised in nearly every treaty they had with Europeans, and later colonists…etc

  • Ignorance is bliss

    When you’re a native person living in non-native communities, such as myself, the damage is immense. I have to argue to validate my Indian identity, if I’m not dark brown and covered in feathers, people don’t think I can be an Indian. It strips me of my real identity because people only see me as a cartoon. My younger siblings hate to even talk about our tribe because the ignorant conversation that ensues after. The mascot puts a cartoon sticker over the fact that we still exist and have real problems, in real communities. I personally dread conversations about this because it’s just one more reminder that to America, we aren’t real. Example: I was visiting friends in another state and someone who has never really interacted with native people started to bring it up. A debate ensued after and he stated “I don’t get what the big deal is, no one is using it in an offensive way anymore, no one cares” and I got so frustrated and yelled “It is a big deal, I’M A NATIVE WOMAN STANDING IN FRONT OF YOU SAYING IT OFFENDS ME, I CARE, I’M REAL, AND you’re proving my point!” To him no matter what, I am not a real Indian because I don’t fit the mascot/movie characters image of buck skin and feathers.

    • Liberal Baloney

      Everyone gets made fun of…. Mormons, Catholics, Irish, Jews, Africans,…. And the problems in the reservations do not have anything to do with native-american mascots… It has to do with problems that have a historical root that destroy families and community…. Native-Americans have plenty of resources to succeed, they just need to get themselves out of problems that are generations deep (caused by historical injustice)

      • Ignorance is bliss

        It’s not about being made fun of, that’s not the point. It’s the barrier that mascots place for us to be seen as real people. The problems are plenty but until people can recognize us a real people, no one will see our problems as real. It’s let’s people hide behind ignorance when they think of Indians as a plastic head dresses and tomahawk chops at football games. “Native-Americans have plenty of resources to succeed….” before you make assumptions as to why people are stuck in a cycle of poverty, you should educate yourself. The old “pull yourself up by your boot straps” doesn’t exactly work in Indian Country when the system is rigged against you. Reservations didn’t even get to have any economy other than the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) until the late 1970’s. They had no access to higher education and the United States was operating under the “kill the Indian, save the man” termination policy up until the late 1970’s. So when you actually take the time to think about it, people who are 44 TODAY were born in a time when the federal government wouldn’t even allow Indians to have jobs. So rather than acknowledge what has been done to these people (even recently), you make them a cartoon and call it “honor”. In case you actually would like to see reality:




      • eugene herrod

        Thank you for your insightful, yet paternalistic, advice regarding us poor Natives. We have always depended on non-Natives as yourself for such wised and generous words of wisdom.

      • disqus_PgdLd0QQyA

        In Maine for instance, Indians were not even allowed to vote until 1956.
        The US Government set up apartheid systems by which blood worship (blood quantum) became the system of determining who was Indian by the Government, so they could set up quasi tribal constitutions where the people have almost no civil rights, as they did outside the apartheid system.

    • Danny Malzahn

      Please even natives themselves will doubt a person’s native heritage if they aren’t red and wearing feathers

      Having mascots keeps the history alive of Indians. Indians back then are different than now. Patriots still exist yet the New England Patriots represent an old fashion colonial patriot. Is patriotism dead?

      The fighting Irish and Celtics are no different. Why does a mascot for a team you don’t live near hurt you so much? Indian mascots represent older Indians because no offense I think native Americans are great people but no one is intimidated by modern natives any more than a whites person

      Historical pre Columbus Indians are seen as brave and strong warriors. That’s the real reason they pick indian mascots. Similarly Vikings are no different. Will Scandinavian kids grow up with low self esteem because people expect them to be like the vikings? It’s double standards

  • Adrianna Harris

    I am a retired Air Force Officer. Selected to teach at a joint military training class on sensitivity to world wide military counsellors. My syllabus was wide: what do Indians (all tribes) have in common (just one of the questions for my lecture). I only knew about my tribe so I went to the library on that base. Remember they train counsellors for all military bases, worldwide. During my research 3 of the students were studying. When they came to that question, they said, oh, that is easy and started fake war whoops. I introduced myself as their next instructor and told them what they were doing was offensive. As a senior officer I demanded their names and wrote up an incident report to the commander. The commander convened a meeting in which they all lied about the event.
    As a result I had a heart attack, while in recovery, my letter “disappeared” along with all copies. Up for promotion, I was not selected and transferred out of the unit.
    Yet as a Major, I was filling a Colonel’s position. The only female and minority to be in that position. My troops monitored nuclear tests worldwide and briefed NASA before shuttle launches. The sergeant that typed up my report was retired and to this day, says the incident must have been from stress. Go figure!

    • Liberal Baloney

      And how will getting rid of native american mascots stop this??? It won’t… Only classes about Native American culture and meeting real Native Americans will prevent that… .Not banning sports names and mascots

    • WilliamRLBaker

      so lets get this straight in the military your feelings got hurt, and you screamed that offends me, and you expected something to be done about your feelings being hurt in the military?

  • Liberal Baloney

    what a joke of a study…. How could she actually tell how they were harmed so greatly….. Fryberg… what a suprise…. Need this to get more gov’t grant money for more worthless studies…

  • Really?

    So… Natives who support the use of Native mascots have “less community worth”, which I assume means “money”. So… we’re basically saying that “poor people like X, so X is bad”? That seems a bit ridiculous to me. Are we going to blame hip-hop for African American poverty issues because poor blacks like hip-hop? Not to mention… isn’t it just a tiny bit possible that someone who’s spent 20 years living in terrible conditions on a reservation just might have low self esteem, regardless of their thoughts on sports mascots?

    • hereinWA

      No, less community worth means they’re not involved in their community. They don’t interact culturally with their own people. Trust an idiot to narrow the meaning of ‘worth’ to money.

  • Shawn MacEachern

    I agree with sonny! Plus the chicago blackhawks logo is awesome. and pays tribute to first nations people.

  • WilliamRLBaker

    So basically the Native American Equivalent of trigger warning? So many worse things assaulting the Native American nations and this is what receives priority? Whats funny is outside of these mascots a good 85% of the American populace will have no known contact with native americans.

  • WilliamRLBaker

    Wow that article was so short, no real info given, but even with the info given you get a real impression of some amazing mental, and statistical gymnastics being done to give a certain result that they were looking for when they began the studies.