Study shows much opposition to Native American mascots, names


The tomahawk chop and war chant by fans of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs may seem like harmless fun, but roughly two-thirds of Native Americans who frequently engage in tribal and cultural practices take offense at such actions.

New University of Michigan research reveals high rates of opposition to not only the use of gestures and chants, but also to Native American mascots and team names like the NFL’s Washington Redskins.

The results run contrary to polls reported by national news outlets, which suggest that as few as 10 percent of native peoples are offended by such mascots and, specifically, the Redskins team name.

The study, which involved researchers at U-M and University of California, Berkeley, found that about half of the respondents in the sample of 1,000 Native Americans — the largest of its kind to date — are offended by the tomahawk chop or mascots in chief headdresses.

But opposition is even higher among people who most strongly identify with being Native American.

For example, among Native Americans who frequently engage in tribal or cultural practices, 67 percent find the Redskins team name offensive; 70 percent find sports fans wearing chief headdresses offensive; 65 percent find sports fans chanting the tomahawk chop offensive; and 73 percent find sports fans imitating Native American dances offensive.

The ongoing debate about native mascots has divided sports fans. On one side, native people and organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians openly oppose and protest the use of native mascots. The other side, often citing nonacademic opinion polls, contends the mascots are not racist.

“The data from previous opinion polls is often used to silence native people, but our study, which captures a broad diversity of native peoples and experiences, shows high rates of opposition,” said Stephanie Fryberg, professor of psychology, member of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington State and a co-lead author of the study.

“As researchers and consumers of information, we need to be very careful about whose voices we claim to be representing.”

The psychological research is clear — the use of native mascots is detrimental for native people, said study co-author Arianne Eason, assistant professor of psychology at UC-Berkeley. These mascots decrease native individuals’ self-esteem, community worth and achievement-related aspirations, she said.

“The results highlight the importance of considering the unique and multifaceted aspects of identity, particularly when seeking to understand Native people’s attitudes and experiences,” the researchers wrote.

The findings will appear in February in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. The study’s other co-authors are Laura Brady, Nadia Jessop and Julisa Lopez of the U-M Department of Psychology.



  1. Alan Robertson
    on February 6, 2020 at 7:02 am

    I note that researchers contacted “Native Americans who frequently engage in tribal and cultural practices”. I do not trust that sample, so I do not trust the results.

    Member, Cherokee Nation

  2. Christopher Eagle
    on February 6, 2020 at 7:48 am

    Alan, two paragraphs above the one you cite, the article says it’s 50/50 among the entire sample. This is a complicated issue, impacting a group of people who get far less support than other minority groups. It’s heartening to see studies like this being performed.

    Chris – also of native heritage

  3. Bonnie Clark
    on February 6, 2020 at 8:35 am

    Apparently I have misunderstand the whole aspect of the Native America Indians. To me, these mascots and team names suggest the pride and strength of the Native American people. A kind of recognition to the original Americans. Perhaps even an apology for what transpired in the past as we took their pride and strength away form them. What we did to the American Indians nation was reprehensible. I believe they need to be honored in any and every way. Just my opinion of course.

  4. Timothy SMITH
    on February 6, 2020 at 9:18 am

    I was attending Central Michigan University in the 1980’s when someone or group in Michigan thought the name “Chippewas” should be changed. At that time, Chief Arnold Sowmick of the Chippewa Tribe in Mt. Pleasant thought that the university using the name was an honor, AS LONG AS the students stop using the “war chants” and the university took away the Indian Head and Arrow logo. Since I was in Journalism at the time, I called the Chief’s home for a phone interview and talked with Mrs. Sowmick, who agreed completely with her husband. (SIDE NOTE: I was told by a professor at the time that in the 1950’s someone would dress up in what could be described as full Sioux regalia for sports games, which of course is NOT anywhere close to Chippewa culture, and is a prime example of un-truth and disrespect). The university and the students complied, and as far as I am aware the Tribe still feels it is an honor to use their name. Also, at the time of the controversy, I petitioned the university to collaborate with the Tribe to find a symbol of the Tribe that would be be an appropriate logo to use that would honor the Chippewa Nation (the university did not act on it to my knowledge) and to also create a mandatory semester class (since you needed a certain number of “electives” anyway as a Freshman) that taught the history of Michigan Native American Tribes, which would tie into the university’s identity (which again I don’t believe was acted on). For whatever reason, the Eastern Michigan Hurons met a different fate during this same time-frame. Education, respect for culture and the truth should prevail. An example of education and truth, I was once told that the term “Redskins” came from the Western Tribes rubbing red clay on their skin prior to going into battle (after all, their skin is brown, NOT red). I DON”T know if this is true or not, and that is my point. Education, respect for culture and truth. IF this WERE true, perhaps “Redskins” would be an honor (ie; brave warriors). I personally have always viewed team names as “names” and not as “mascots” (ie; animals or “things,” which is offensive to Human Beings) but I believe that the Native American Nations are Sovereign, and they themselves should have the final say where their culture is concerned.

  5. Bruce Martin
    on February 6, 2020 at 10:51 am

    Good friend and colleague, Dr. Anton Treuer (Leech Lake Ojibwe) provides some thoughts about the issue.–DrJmr7aWI1roM

  6. Stephen Erskine
    on February 11, 2020 at 7:29 am

    As always, in 2020 we have to have these discussions. It is exhausting.

    If sports teams dressed like Native Africans and appropriated their culture, everyone would have alarms going off. We would all recognize that as wrong, disrespectful, and completely inappropriate at the very least.

    But somehow Native American culture is looked upon differently. Could you imagine someone running around on a field dressed as an Asian caricature in 2020?
    Well that happens in 2020 in the USA with Native mascots all the time.

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