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South Dakota Media Should Take Off Its Blinders and Talk About the Mascot Issue

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Nearly 30 years ago I wrote an opinion piece that ended with, "We are human beings and not mascots for America's fun and games."

That year Vernon Bellecourt and Michael Haney (both are now deceased) appeared at the opening game in Cleveland of the Cleveland Indians baseball team carrying a huge placard that read, "We are human beings and not mascots for America's fun and games."

Vernon and Michael became friends of mine after that and during the years we protested the use of Indians as mascots around the country. We even dodged burning cigarettes and racial taunts while protesting at a University of Illinois football game because we, along with a graduate student at the university named Charlene Teters, objected to the Chief Illiniwek mascot.

Well, Chief Illiniwek is gone, but the Cleveland Indians still use a hideous caricature of an Indian for their mascot logo. And even though Michael Haney, Suzanne Harjo and I appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1991 to protest the Washington R-Words name, it is still their mascot.

But in the past year with the added punch of Ray Halbritter, leader of the Oneida Nation, and countless others across America, included the Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, speaking out against the obvious racist mascot, things have started to move in the favor of Native Americans after all of these years. We doff our hats to Halbritter for speaking out and using the power of the Oneida Nation to make a point.

Read our SPORTS page this week and see who else finds the Washington team's mascot racist and even compares it to the N-Word. Well, it has been a long battle as an article I wrote about the R-Words for Newsweek Magazine in 1991 will attest to, but things are finally starting to jell. The argument by Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington professional football team, that the R-Word honors Native Americans is proving to be pure bunk. It is no honor to be mimicked and aped every Sunday.

I believe a newspaper has to be more than lining for a bird cage. I believe that an Indian newspaper must have opinions and not be afraid to express those opinions. Although we report the news we also must be an advocate for the Indian people and we must stand up for the rights and justice for Native Americans. If not us, then who?

In 1981 I wrote that the media in South Dakota was like the proverbial mule: you had to hit it between the eyes with a two-by-four to get its attention. And perhaps that is still true. With the mascot issue raging across America the South Dakota media hasn't touched it with a 10-foot pole. I truly admire Karl Gehrke of South Dakota Public Radio, but I encourage him to bring this topic to the people of South Dakota because we all know it has been a topic in Indian Country for more than 35 years.

On Wednesday a lady substituting for Mr. Gehrke while he is on vacation was interviewing the author of a book called, "The New Black." She asked the author, "How do you think that book would go over in a state like South Dakota that is nearly all-white?" Say what? What in the heck are the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota: chopped liver? We are many things, but we are not all-white!

This editorial urges the rest of South Dakota's media to open its collective eyes because that two-by-four is about to smack you between them. It is high time to start writing about and talking about the issue of using Indians as mascots for America's fun and games.

(Tim Giago, Nanwica Kciji, is editor and publisher of Native Sun News and can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com)