In mid April, Colorado officials and state tribal leaders jumped on the Native American PC bandwagon and came to the agreement that Native American mascots should be removed from public schools unless the tribe and school can come to an agreement. This is a debate that has been going on in many other states for years. This type of discussion also touches large universities and professional teams. California has already banned the use of Native American names in schools. The University of North Dakota was forced to change their mascot in 2012 because it was dubbed “politically incorrect” by the NCAA, and the Washington Redskins NFL team has also faced scrutiny regarding their name. The Redskins, however, have refused to change their name and mascot until they are legally forced.
These kinds of movements make PR difficult for these entities. There are 48 high schools in Colorado that are using a Native American name as a mascot. That means all 48 would either get permission from their tribe or drop the mascot and rebrand the school all together. Funding also becomes an issue in this situation. A university has steady income, however, public schools are state funded and large amounts of money aren’t always available to spend on rebranding. Another challenge with securing permission from the tribe is some no longer exist or the heritage has mixed through the generations.
The University of North Dakota was forced to drop their mascot, the Sioux Indian, and the slogan, “Fighting Sioux.” After voting on a new mascot, the university decided the new mascot is the Hawks. Although the university might have changed their mascot, the PR work they were faced with was far more challenging than taking on one more branch of a tribe. UND is also an example of an unsuccessful rebrand and PR campaign. The school changed their mascot in 2012, but made the switch to the Hawks in 2015. UND just won the National Hockey Championship in 2016, but people weren’t chanting “Fighting Hawks” after, but instead “Fighting Sioux” that could be heard from all parts of the campus. In the crowd, none of the UND fans were wearing Hawks jerseys, but instead it was a crowd filled with the Sioux Indian logo. With this result, the tribe and state officials should be thinking about whether making the change is actually worth it. The university was forced to spend a base of $200,000 on rebranding, yet the alumni and current students clearly aren’t buying into the change.
I believe using a Native American tribe as a mascot is inoffensive. Sports teams, and organizations want to be viewed as strong and powerful. By naming your team the Sioux and going with the slogan, “Fighting Sioux,” people are saying, your tribe is strong and always wins the battle, and that’s what we want to do too. I believe it’s more flattering that a successful establishment would want to name themselves after that and bring recognition not only to the university but also the Indian tribe with which it associates.
What do you think about the Native American PC movement sweeping sports teams and schools? Is the struggle to rebrand and promote worth it or is fighting the tribe for the rights a better route?