Calls for increased teaching of Native American issues as school reviews ‘Redskins’ mascot

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Christel House officials launched a series of meetings to revisit Manual High School’s “Redskins” mascot, but did not publicly commit to changing it before the start of the new school year.

Some alumni opposed to changing the mascot and “erasing the legacy” of the Manual Redskins proposed waiting three years so current students at the south side school could graduate with the same moniker.

The Manual mascot review – announced on the heels of controversy over the Washington Redskins’ team name and nationwide protests against social injustice – sparked debate among Facebook users in a public group for alumni.

There was “considerable pushback” from some alumni, but most south side residents seemed “very receptive” to changing the mascot after learning it was considered a racial slur, according to Carolina Castoreno-Santana, executive director of the American Indian Center of Indiana.

“We’ve gotten some comments from people who are like, ‘What’s next? Are you going to try canceling Santa Claus?'” she said. “I understand people not knowing [the term ‘redskin’ is offensive]. But once you know, that burden to do the right thing is on you. You can’t attribute it to ignorance anymore.”

During a Zoom meeting Monday night, Castoreno-Santana urged Christel House officials to consider the psychological impact of Native mascots on school-aged children. 

Native mascots “establish an unwelcome and oftentimes hostile learning environment for American Indian students that affirms negative images and stereotypes that are promoted in mainstream society,” the American Psychological Association (APA) said in an August 2005 resolution; it recommended the immediate retirement of Native mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges universities, athletic teams and organizations.

The imagery is “misleading” and undermines the educational experience of all students, especially children with limited exposure to Indigenous cultures, the APA said.

Castoreno-Santana and Scott Shoemaker, the curator of Native American art, history and culture at the Eiteljorg Museum, also encouraged school leaders to consider the benefits of a robust education on Native people, cultures and issues.

Most school curriculums present Indigenous groups in a historic light; students often are not taught to view Native Americans as contemporary, urban Americans, Castoreno-Santana explained.

“[Native mascots] are really reducing an entire race of people to one, culturally inappropriate, out-of-date context and it’s just not right,” she told News 8. 

Reporters were barred from the virtual meeting after Christel House representatives raised concerns about protesters.