From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Church caucus protests Indian mascots

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Mon, 3 Dec 2001 15:10:01 -0600

Dec. 3, 2001  News media contact: Linda Green7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: This report may be used as a sidebar to UMNS story #564.

By Charles Cole*

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (UMNS) -- The Native American International Caucus' call
for a day of prayer against the use of Indian names as sports mascots
reinforces the United Methodist Church's own opposition to such practices.

At the United Methodist 2000 General Conference, Native Americans and others
protested the use of the "Chief Wahoo" mascot by the Cleveland Indians
baseball team. The denomination's top legislative body, meeting in
Cleveland, called the caricature demeaning and urged church agencies to
enter into dialogue with team owners, but no dialogue has taken place.
Protests also have been lodged against the North Dakota University "Fighting
Sioux" and other college and professional teams. 

At the Nov. 29-30 meeting, NAIC requested that the Rev. Alvin Deer,
executive director of the caucus, write a letter to Ted Brown, president of
Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn., asking that the college quit
using "Indians" as a name for its athletic teams.

The protest has sparked an emotional debate over the use of the mascot
"Chief Illiniwek," who dresses in Plains Indian clothing and performs at
athletic events of the University of Illinois.

This year, the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race gave a
$10,000 grant to the Illinois Chapter of the National Coalition on Racism in
Sports and Media, partly to address the mascot issue. The grant also was
intended to help fund a cultural center and enable the school to work on
cross-cultural issues, according to the Rev. Kenneth Deere, commission staff

Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher, of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual
(regional) Conference, supported the grant, despite complaints by United
Methodist alumni of the university.

The Rev. Carol Lakota Eastin, a Lakota and NAIC member, told the caucus that
she had applied for another religion and race grant, but was dissuaded after
a conversation with Illinois Great Rivers officials. The commission is
considering whether she was the victim of racism. She said her conference is
"like a war zone" because of the conflict. 

Eastin and other members of the conference committees on Native American
ministries in the Illinois Great Rivers and Northern Illinois conferences
made a public statement to Illinois United Methodists in March. "At the same
time that our ministries with Native American are expanding, we find
ourselves facing a barrier," they said. 

"The Illiniwek stereotype is an animated character of something called
Indian by non-natives," they said. "It does not portray real native people
past or present. This perpetuates the invisibility of native people who are
part of almost every Illinois community." 

The Native American ministries representatives said the Illiniwek figure
demeans Native Americans, is a reminder of genocidal history and ridicules a
dance that is sacred to them. The real Illiniwek was an Algonquin Indian and
did not dress like Plains Indians, Eastin said.

In discussing why the controversy has aroused such emotions, members of the
NAIC listed several factors:
7	Many Americans like to think of indigenous people as dead and do not
want to recognize their continued presence in society.
7	 The religion of many church members is merely social and has no
7	 Many white Americans have an underlying guilt about past and
present treatment of Native Americans and want to deny their guilt.
7	Many Americans do not even know their own history about the
treatment of Native Americans. 

In a March 9 United Methodist News Service commentary about the Illiniwek
controversy, Deer wrote, "In a land that is often called a Christian nation,
we have Christians who defend all these mascots and even put them on a
pedestal, giving them more worth than the people the mascots portray. What
else can it be but idolatry when Christians say they will leave the church
rather than give up their mascot (idol)?"

Deer also mentioned several positive changes as a result of the protests. He
said the University of Oklahoma ceased using an Indian mascot, "Little Red,"
and began using a miniature Conestoga wagon representing the "Sooners," the
early settlers who staked out homestead land in the state. He also said
United Methodist-related Oklahoma City University changed its team name from
"Chiefs" to "Stars."

# # #

*Cole, a free-lance writer, is a retired staff member of the United
Methodist Board of Global Ministries living in Albuquerque, N.M.

United Methodist News Service
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