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SDHSAA Considers Resolution Discouraging Use of American Indian Imagery and Mascots

Yesterday the South Dakota High School Activities Association board of directors gave first reading to the following resolution, brought forward by Tiospa Zina superintendent Dr. Roger Bordeaux, to encourage member schools not to use harmful, stereotypical Indian imagery or mascots:

WHEREAS after numerous empirical studies, personal anecdotes, and recommendations from national organizations and federal programs, it is evident that stereotypical Indian imagery and Indian mascots cause harm, and

WHEREAS one leading study conducted by Dr. Stephanie Fryberg (Stanford University, 2004) determined that stereotypical representations from Indian mascots and Indian imagery of the “leathered and feathered” Indian have a direct negative impact on the self-esteem of American Indian youth, as they restrict the number of ways in which American Indian youth see themselves, and

WHEREAS exposure to such pervasive stereotypical imagery resulted in lower self-esteem, a lower sense of community worth, and decreased views of students’ own potential, and

WHEREAS in 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) called for the “immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images, and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams, and organizations”, and

WHEREAS two years later the American Sociological Association (ASA) also called for the elimination of American Indian names, mascots and logos, and in 2011, the American Counseling Association (ACA) passed a resolution calling upon their members to advocate for the elimination of all stereotypes associated with Indian mascots, and

WHEREAS in October 2015, the White House Initiative on American Indian/Alaska Native Education released a report with recommendations for schools to immediately retire Indian mascots and stereotypical Indian imagery, after findings which confirmed the harm of stereotypical Indian imagery, and

WHEREAS considering all of the aforementioned recommendations, it is very clear that Indian mascots, and any representation of stereotypical Indian imagery not only cause harm to American Indian youth, but moreover, such imagery is not suitable for educational settings which aim to foster healthy psychological development and/or student self-actualization.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED the South Dakota High School Activities Association encourages its membership to consider not using any stereotypical Indian imagery and Indian mascots that cause harm.

Bob Mercer reports that Sisseton school board member Ron Evenson and Woonsocket superintendent Rod Weber spoke against the resolution. Both men come from schools that call their sports teams the Redmen. Bob Mercer reports that Evenson and Weber both challenged the SDHSAA board to produce evidence of harm from their Indian nicknames and mascots:

Evenson asked for proof of damage. So did Woonsocket Superintendent Rod Weber, who said his district’s school board voted many years ago to change the name from Redmen but quickly went back to it.

Weber said his current board has many questions. “Is there research out there? Have we done research as a (state) board?” he asked [Bob Mercer, “Association Urges Dropping of Teams’ Nicknames, Mascots That Portray Native American Stereotypes,” Rapid City Journal, 2016.01.14].

Um, Ron? Rod? Did you read the resolution? It cites the research you’re looking for. The APA 2005 resolution is chock full of citations. The ASA 2007 resolution also came with a big bibliography. So did the White House 2015 report. Satisfied?

Evenson also tried some judo, accusing the SDHSAA of not taking the issue seriously enough:

Evenson challenged the SDHSAA directors to set a tight standard with penalties such as prohibiting post-season play for schools in violation.

Otherwise, he said, the fight will be one school at a time.

“The argument should be right here. You folks should be deciding this,” Evenson told the directors. “If you’re not willing to go that route, then you should reject this resolution” [Mercer, 2016.01.14].

Clever: Evenson doesn’t want the SDHSAA recommending that his school not act like racists, so he dares the SDHSAA to make a firm rule penalizing schools for acting like racists. That’s a trick: The SDHSAA is staking a remarkably restrained route that is tough to oppose; Evenson is daring the board to propose a mandate that would line more opponents up behind Sisseton and Woonsocket.

SDSHAA didn’t bite; instead, they approved first reading of this resolution 8 to 1 (Sioux Valley athletic director Moe Ruesnik voted no). Second reading takes place at SDHSAA’s March 2 meeting in Pierre.


  1. Craig 2016-01-14 08:42

    This resolution is less valuable as the paper it is printed on. If passed it would “encourage” schools to not use such imagery or mascots… but so what? There are no ramifications if the school opts to continue using whatever logo they currently have.

    It also doesn’t indicate there would be any impact to the actual team names. Thus the “Redmen” term isn’t impacted whatsoever because unlike the team name “Redskins”, the term Redmen is not considered to be a racial slur. The logo would fall under this resolution, but that simply means they pick a new logo without a Chief wearing a headdress or somehow adapt it so that they can argue it is not “harmful”. I doubt that would be sufficient in the eyes of many – including many students of Tiospa Zina.

    If the South Dakota High School Activities Association really wants to take action they will need to do more than simply “encourage”s its membership to consider not using such imagery. They will need to pass a rule that strictly forbids it and any school impacted will need to adapt or face sactions such as not being eligible to participate in state tournaments.

    I’m not saying that is the appropraite action in this case, I’m merely stating such a resolution without direct consequences does little good.

  2. Porter Lansing 2016-01-14 09:26

    @Larry … An analysis of the viability of Ki-Yi is what we who raised the issue on “You Know You’re From Watertown” (a Facebook page) were promised (as a way to shut us up) last fall.
    – As Mr. Heidelberger recommended last fall, a group of Native Americans should go to each school who’s logo is deemed controversial and meet in public forum with that school’s administration. The administration should lay out their case that the logo does no harm; face to face with the victims. Then maybe Dr. Roger Bordeaux’s fact finding would become a little closer to home and the “us vs the Indians” attitude could be mitigated.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-14 09:53

    Stu Whitney talks about Watertown’s catching-up with the 21st century:

    “Our goal will be to rewrite and modernize the legend and bring it to you later this spring or early this summer,” Watertown superintendent Lesli Jutting told the school board Monday night.

    …Jutting had discussions with advocates that included William Mendoza, policy advisor to President Obama on Native American issues. The White House Initiative on American Indian Education released findings that stereotypical imagery can be harmful to the self-esteem and development of Indian youth, who crave modern examples of cultural pride.

    “The images of Native Americans tend to be in a time warp,” Jutting told the Watertown Public Opinion. “It’s the old image of the chiefs, the braves and the warriors. It’s not the new image of Native American people today: doctors, lawyers and teachers. I think we have to look at that and make sure it’s right for all of our kids. We need to make sure we’re treating all races with that kind of view” [Stu Whitney, “Watertown’s Homecoming Shift,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.01.13].

    Let’s see if Supt. Jutting can lead Watertown to a more culturally appropriate response than former Supt. Melmer did in 2001.

  4. larry kurtz 2016-01-14 10:14

    My eldest daughter and i had a long phone conversation yesterday about attitudes on race relations just between Rapid City and Spearfish. She has noticed the absence of homelessness in the northern Hills compared to the rampant despair in Rapid City.

  5. scott 2016-01-14 10:20

    Sisseton and Woonsocket could always claim their mascots are named after chewing tobacco, not Native Americans.

  6. Paul Seamans 2016-01-14 10:25

    It should be up to the students, rather than the adults, who make the decision about the school mascot. When schools were originally formed it was the students who picked the mascot. When schools are consolidated it is the students who pick the new mascots. The school boards should bow to the wishes of the students and it would be my guess that the students will vote to do away with racist images that offend their fellow classmates.

  7. Craig 2016-01-14 10:39

    Actually Scott, from what I recall the Sisseton usage of the term “Redmen” as their team moniker was in place long before the association with Native American imagery. The “Chief” logo came much later. Thus it is possible they would simply change the logo and drop their homecoming celebration which includes pretty much every Native American stereotype while retaining the “Redmen” name.

    I cannot say what Woonsocket’s origin stems from, and a search of their district website didn’t find a single reference to the term “Redmen”. If the name is important to them, they surely don’t seem eager to display it. Oddly enough, their football schedule is referred to as “Blackhawk Football”? Their logo also seems to just be a Red “W” so I’m not certain they would need to change anything.

    The protests I’ve heard of, and the complaints registered against the various schools have always surrounded the logo, mascot, or homecoming traditions. I’m curious if those things are changed would the controversy go away, or would the term “Redmen” or perhaps even “Arrow” also be considered culturally insensitive?

  8. Craig 2016-01-14 10:41

    Paul – there is a risk that students are more interested in preserving tradition and as they may not be as exposed to other cultures they might not fully understand the ramifications. In some cases yes the kids might make the ‘right’ choice, but if they voted overwhelmingly to continue down the same path it doesn’t make the controversy disappear.

    I don’t think this is a topic that can really be put on the backs of the student body. This is something adults and leaders need to work on. They are paid to make difficult decisions and this is one of them.

  9. mike from iowa 2016-01-14 11:12

    What would happen if someone dressed up as an Indian,peed in the wrong bathroom? No telling where this will go. Eliminate the need for exploding heads by banning mascots that do harm to various groups.

  10. Douglas Wiken 2016-01-14 11:40

    Abandon all mascots. They are stupid. Call the teams names that relate to the environment…Tornado, Wind, Prairie, Blue Sky, Solar Wind, Antelope, Deer, or as in Rapid City after some coach or whoever was a Cobbler, Mitchell could have the Munsons, etc.

  11. Porter Lansing 2016-01-14 11:40

    The Daily Dose? Thanks for posting that link, Larry. Greg Belfrage? I have a schoolmate from Watertown who went on to Harvard for his medical license and then returned to be a Doctor in Pine Ridge for his whole career before he retired. I value his opinion more than I value Mr. Belfrage’s. Here’s an exerpt …
    ~Who’s the “we” Fred, you got a turd in your pocket? (old railroad joke, couldn’t resist after reading your thoughtful post)
    Well that’s a more polite response than my tactless post deserved, and I don’t like it either when non-Native people appear to speak for Native people, but I still remember the dumbfounded expression on my son’s face over 20 years ago when we were watching Old Yeller and the little boy started dancing around wearing the warbonnet his dad brought home for him and aping some Hollywood director’s idea of what Native war whoops sounded like–the only time my son had ever seen feathers was at a pow wow where feathers are worn in a respectful way, his late mom who was enrolled in White Earth reservation was a jingle dress dancer and an artist–I think misappropriation of another culture as is done in the Ki Yi “legend” is wrong and demeaning to all of us.

  12. Porter Lansing 2016-01-14 11:47

    Ten worst places to live? That deserves a positive response.
    ~Porter’s Best Places To Live in South Dakota:
    1. Vermillion
    2. Spearfish
    3. Sioux Falls
    4. Aberdeen
    5. Mission
    6. Eagle Butte

  13. Paul Seamans 2016-01-14 12:05

    Craig, you may be right about not putting this on the back of students. However in western South Dakota there have been quite a few school consolidations and co-opting of sports teams over the years. The students then pick out the mascots. I don’t believe that any of them have picked a racial group as mascots. It is usually alumni members, and school boards, who hold onto their alma mater’s mascot.

  14. bearcreekbat 2016-01-14 14:27

    scott, the tobacco idea also came to my mind, but then I remembered that the Redman packaging featured various Natives posing in a head dress.

    Craig, I don’t know how far back the term Redmen was used to described Natives, but my tobacco chewing days took place 49 years ago (1967) and the packaging used Natives at that time.

  15. Scott 2016-01-14 14:30

    I suggest we put Rick Melmer and Keith Moore on this issue. I’ve heard they’ve done some amazing things on Native American issues on the past.

  16. leslie 2016-01-14 18:13

    Excellent segment on effects of low self esteem on minorities On Npr today

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-15 05:34

    Paul, while I like Socratic questioning and giving students responsibility for figuring things out themselves, I have to lean toward Craig’s position on who decides whether the school retains an offensive, racist school mascot or nickname. Sometimes we have to teach kids by laying down certain codes of conduct. If I were principal, I wouldn’t let the student council decide whether it was o.k. to shout “Ni—r” or “R–skin” in the halls; I’d say racial epithets land you in my office or detention or some other hot water. Likewise mascots and nicknames: I would be happy to let the student council lead a schoolwide discussion of what the name ought to be, but I’d set some parameters for that discussion, saying that the available options do not include Redmen, Squaws, or other racially offensive terms.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-15 05:34

    Another absolute rule I impose as principal (or superintendent, or school board member): we put Rick Melmer and Keith Moore in charge of nothing.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-15 05:36

    (Porter: Vermillion over Spearfish? I like the river bluffs, but you’re going to have to work hard to tell me that anything in Vermillion beats running Lookout Mountain and biking Spearfish Canyon.)

  20. mike from iowa 2016-01-15 06:24

    Redman chew introduced in 1904. The link shows a package of Redman chew with a Redman on the package, just as bcb said. Therefore,bcb is great.

  21. Spike 2016-01-15 08:24

    To me tradition should also mean the ability to change with the times.
    There are examples across the country of some of our greatest institutions of higher learning ridding themselves of racist mascot names, rituals and images.
    With high schools there are many examples of student led changes, community led changes, school board led changes.
    Also examples like Watertown. ..where both administration (i.e. Melmer) and community insist it’s not detrimental to the native ( and their own) communities.

    Is this also a closet example of certain people actually not wanting “the Indians to boss us around?” If we give them this then what’s next?

    Team sports can teach discipline and teamwork and pride. Buts it’s a game. And many students are left out so they participate as fans. They will cheer for the team, no matter the name.

    I’m with Mr. Wiken on sports, sometimes it seems education needs are almost an afterthought. Personally I like swimming, physical education, lifestyle survival skills, martial arts, hiking …n for the guys from back when(n a few now) a boxing club in every community!

    Very good statement by Lesli Jutting. Well done. So much better than Melmer in the past.

    I appreciate all the good comments and Mr. Lansing, jingle dress dancers are absolutely beautiful (and ironically great athletes) thanks for sharing. Your statement about this being demeaning to all is the truth.

  22. Porter Lansing 2016-01-15 09:32

    Agreed … NO RICK MELMER!!!
    @Mr. Heidelberger … Absolutely Vermillion. The level of intellectual pursuit trumps scenery in the long run. BUT, I live in CO and I’m probably jaded and saturated with beautiful scenery. Besides, I love the liberal culture of Vermillion (compared to the redneck, rodeo scene in Brookings). Spearfish is better in the summer. though.

  23. Porter Lansing 2016-01-15 09:39

    Well composed, as always Spike. Boxing would be a welcome return to youth sport. It settles the soul and centers the mind.

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