500 signatures reached
To: School Board and Administration of Twin Lakes School Corporation
Twin Lakes: Stop Using the "Indians" Mascot
We know Twin Lakes is filled with people of good intent—the staff, the faculty, the administration, the school board, the students, and the broader community. But we are writing you today because good intentions are not always good enough. It is long past time for us as a community to take a critical look at the “Indians” mascot and make the choice to stop using indigenous peoples as a symbol.
Why is this important?
Bryan Brayboy, who is the President’s Professor of Indigenous Education and Justice in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University, says this: “The social science research and literature on this is pretty overwhelming that the use of these caricatures is bad for everyone. Particularly, it’s bad for children. . . For non-native kids, it largely inures them toward racism toward native people. It ends up giving them the sense that native folks and peoples are a thing of the past or are to be caricatured, so they are less likely to have empathy with native peoples, and they come to see us as these relics of the past and stereotypes rather than vibrant, viable, productive human beings.”
The American Psychological Association (APA) agrees with Professor Brayboy and has been calling on schools and teams to stop using American “Indian” mascots, symbols, images, and personalities since 2005. The APA says that not only do these symbols, images, and mascots perpetuate inaccuracies about Native American culture, but they teach young minds that it is acceptable to participate in culturally abusive behaviors and discrimination.
Twin Lakes has attempted to ensure its representation of indigenous peoples is “respectful”—for instance, discouraging cartoonish depictions of the “Indian” mascot. But turning people into a stereotype causes serious harm even if the stereotype is intended to be or perceived as positive by the local community. One study found that mascots subconsciously reinforce stereotypes, even when exposure to the mascot is only incidental, and that people who live in cities with teams with Native American mascots were more likely to think of Native Americans as warlike.
These names and images demean and dehumanize Native American people. When a community reduces rich, varied cultures to a logo on a t-shirt or a wall, the community is saying that those living, breathing people are “other than” and relics and insignificant to the current society. Indigenous people are not artifacts of the past; nor are they peoples who only exist in other places. The United States recognizes 567 tribes today. In 2010, the U.S. Census found that 49,738 American Indian and Alaska Natives live in Indiana.
The past is still important to acknowledge, though, because we live in Indiana, the “Land of the Indians,” and there are zero reservations here. When French traders arrived in the area that we now know as White County and Monticello, they encountered the Miami. Later, the Potawatomi people migrated into modern-day Indiana and were soon joined by other tribes as they were pushed out of ancestral homelands in the eastern United States, including the Delaware and Shawnee (who settled Prophetstown). By 1850, however, the Native American populations in Indiana were largely reduced, but not because they had “disappeared.” They were pushed west yet again in forced migrations like the “Potawatomi Trail of Death.”
Our ancestors took control of this land by killing and abusing native peoples and forcing them from their homes. It is hollow for us to claim that we are honoring native peoples by plastering stylized images of indigenous bodies and cultural symbols on buildings which stand on land stolen from those same peoples.
Some will claim these symbols represent our history, but even if such images could be a genuine way to honor native peoples, the images Twin Lakes uses are offensive in terms of historical inaccuracy. The feathered war bonnet so prominently featured both within and outside our school buildings and on logos has zero ties with the indigenous people who lived in our area. Similarly, tipis, like the one that so long graced our football field, come from the Plains Tribes of the northwestern U.S, not here, and totem poles, like the one featured prominently in the high school gym, originated from traditions in the Pacific Northwest.
Around the country, and indeed the world, people are finally recognizing that “Indian” mascots are unacceptable. Stereotyping and appropriating the symbols of people who have been marginalized is wrong. We call on Twin Lakes now to join in this growing tide. Whatever the reasons for the “Indian” mascot, it is time to make a change.
This is not about school spirit. It’s about acknowledging that indigenous peoples are not suitable mascots. The children—Native Americans and non-natives alike—deserve better.