During the 1800s, when the Europeans first encountered Native Americans, they tortured them through murder, rape and the spread of disease, as well as forced assimilation by having them cut their hair, stop speaking their language, displacing them from their homes and putting them on their reservations. While the United States has never apologized for these actions, they have instead made up for it by making Indigenous people mascots for their sports teams. In the United States, sports teams such as the Washington Redskins and the Atlanta Braves (who’s mascot is Chief Woc-A-Homa) use Native Americans as mascots. Not only is this disrespectful, this diminishes the history of oppression that Indigenous people have gone through. Today, the term “redskin” is now considered offensive by both Merriam-Webster and Oxford, but it is still used by many American sports fans.
According to a study by clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Friedman, the use of Native Americans as mascots hinders young indigenous children’s self-esteem, as well as their mental health. The study also highlights the way it affects non-Natives as well, as it causes them to have negative and stereotypical ideas about Native Americans. Not only is the use of Indigenous people as mascots racist, but it ties back to colonialism, as it marks the economic exploitation and ownership of a group of people. Sports organizations such as the National Football League and Major League Baseball profit from the use of these mascots by putting them on sports jerseys and other memorabilia. The way that a majorly white-owned sport uses a minority group as a source of entertainment symbolizes that they have a sense of ownership over them.
The negative connotation of Indigenous people created by non-indigenous people causes their issues to not be taken as seriously. Often, America does not focus on the issues of Natives. When a marginalized group is portrayed as a caricature or as a source of entertainment, it causes that group to be perceived as negatively by others. When people are taught to view others as a joke, their issues tend to be pushed aside or not seen as critical. This is what has caused the exploitation of Natives by non-Native American people.