Mike Kueber's Blog

November 6, 2012

American Indian or Native American

While at the gym yesterday, a friend asked me if I had a new tattoo.  Yes, indeed, I responded and proudly noted that the shiny, new Fighting Sioux on my right shoulder was the mascot for my alma mater, the University of North Dakota (UND).  And it is a matching bookend to the Longhorn mascot (my law school) on my left shoulder. 

“Was” correctly describes the logo’s status at UND because, as I explained to my friend, the NCAA has forced UND to discard the mascot and get a new one.  According to the politically-correct NCAA, American Indian mascots are hostile or abusive.  (The Seminole of Florida State was granted an exception when the leaders of the Seminole Nation voted 18-2 to endorse their status as school mascot.) 

My politically-correct friend told me that the proper term for America’s indigenous people is Native American, not American Indian.  Although I initially accepted his correction, I quickly recovered and told him that I thought American Indians had not signed-off on their name change.  Instead the name change had been prompted by a few activists badgering the pusillanimous NCAA.  I told him I would research the matter and get back to him.

Well, the research says I was right.  According to one internet website, the US Census Bureau in 1995 found that 50% of people who identified as indigenous preferred the term “American Indian,” 37% preferred “Native American,” and the remainder preferred other terms or had no preference.  And two subsequent surveys report a similar disconnect with respect to mascots:

  • According to polling results published in Sports Illustrated (SI) in February 2002, most Native American activists and tribal leaders consider Indian team names and mascots offensive, but neither Native Americans in general nor a cross section of U.S. sports fans agree.  SI concluded, “There is a near total disconnect between Indian activists and the Native American population on this issue.”
  • In 2004, a poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania essentially confirmed the Sports Illustrated poll’s findings, concluding that 91% of the American Indians surveyed in the 48 states on the mainland USA found the name “Redskins” acceptable.

Incidentally, while doing this research, I came across several sites that indicate the debate between “black” and “African-American” is not over.  One of the sites described “African-American” as a politically-correct manifestation of the 80s (championed by Jesse Jackson) that is starting to lose favor for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that blue-eyed whites from South Africa can claim A-A status for purposes of affirmative action.  (That reminds me of the blue-eyed Spanish whites from Mexico who can claim Mexican status for purposes of affirmative action.)   

I believe an individual should be sensitive to the sensibilities of others.  That is why I reluctantly downplay my affection for the Confederacy.  Although I have an undying attraction to an underdog fighting against big federal government, I understand that many see the Confederacy as nothing but an endorsement of slavery and second-class status for blacks.  But I am confident that my Fighting Sioux tattoo cannot reasonably be construed to be offensive, and that is why I got it.  That, plus poking the eye of the politically correct.

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