Apparently, tribes that run casinos are far more likely than tribes that don’t to embrace stereotypes. The question is whether they do this because they recognize that a number of the stereotypes are not meant all that negatively, or because they’re willing to endure being made light of when it is in their financial interest?

One of the big surprises when I first moved out west was how much the local tribe in Deseret embraced the stereotypes. I had been raised to believe that calling them Indians is wrong (which, technically, it is) and that the proper term is Native Americans (which is not wrong so much as inspecific). But the local reservation doesn’t say “Get your Native American Ornamentals here!” but rather “Indian Gear! Next Exit!” (often selling things that have no ties to the local tribes but are associated with tribes in general). After that, it became hard to ever use the “Native American” term. So I’ve transitioned to using “tribes” generically. I wish we could go back to the drawing board and use “Amerindians” as the CIA World Factbook and other sources do.

The question of embracing or resisting the stereotypes is one of those things that comes up when it comes to sports mascots. It’s difficult to understand why Redskins might be considered an offensive mascot. I am generally indifferent on the subject of tribal mascots, believing that appropriateness depends a great deal on context, but that one does make me squirm a little bit. On the other side of the equation is Braves, which seems pretty obviously meant to be complimentary. Everything else is somewhere in between.

The NCAA passed down a ruling several years back that forced many colleges to reconsider their mascots. The ruling essentially required any use of tribal mascots to be approved of by the applicable tribe. Some rather generic names, such as Indians, had no applicable tribe to appeal to and so Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe changed their mascot from the Indians to the Red Wolves and Warhawks. Had the Miami Redskins not already changed their name to the RedHawks, they likely would have had to change their name, too. William & Mary called themselves the Tribe and responded by removing the feather from their logo and becoming a generic tribe rather than an Indian Tribe.

Others, though, got away with it by securing the approval of their local tribe. At least that’s the official reason. The Utah Utes were cool despite a most heinously uncool name. The Illinois Illini had to get rid of the guy in the costume, but got to keep the name. The Florida State Seminoles were initially on the Bad List, but they got on the Good List by securing the approval of the local Seminole tribe. Other Seminole tribes objected.

In a similar situation, though still on the Bad List, is the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. They got the approval of one Sioux tribe, but not of others. Unlike Florida State, however, this was deemed insufficient. This ruling lead some to believe that the Big Boys were being allowed to get away with what the lesser schools were not. The NCAA can afford to irritate North Dakota, but not so much Florida State. Being a big school also would presumably make it easier to donate money to their sponsoring tribe to garner their goodwill. More on this in a minute.

North Dakota in particular has been hit hard because their boosters are vociferously opposed to changing the mascot and have threatened to withhold donations if they comply. They tried to gradually transition to the North Dakota Force, but then a minor league hockey team swooped in and took that name. UND was further hurt because their limbo prevented them from being invited into an athletic conference (The Summit League) with a number of nearby schools (North Dakota State, South Dakota State, and South Dakota). North Dakota also sports a first-class hockey team and they have to cover up their logos anytime they make the hockey playoffs. When the Board of Regents tried to change the name, they were sued (though they won in court). They’ve decided to change the name, but have not decided what to.

I have some rather mixed feelings about these rules. On the one hand, I do wish that the tribes would take it as the compliment it often is. The mascots are in the same warrior tradition as the Spartans and Trojans. Of course, you also have the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, though there is a decent argument to be made that a group using itself as a mascot is different than a group using some other group as a mascot. Ultimately, though as a WASP, it’s hard for me to tell other people how they should respond in circumstances like that. It’s always easy to tell the other guy when they should and should not be offended.

My main objection to the Indians name is that it is such a generic and boring name. The fact that there were two teams in the Sun Belt Conference (not to mention a professional Major League Baseball team) with that name is a testament to that (Utah State and New Mexico State should reconsider Aggies, too). On the other hand, the names that they chose are equally uninspiring. When an actual tribe’s name is being used, it actually makes a good deal of sense to have to obtain their approval in a backaround trademark sort of way. But that only really requires the approval of one tribe and therefore North Dakota should have gotten the same pass as Florida State. Requiring these universities to pay for the rights also does not seem unfair.

There’s also the question as to what right the NCAA should have to dictate these terms to begin with, but I think that they are within their rights there. North Dakota is always free to leave the NCAA for the NAIA. In fact, it’s the overall lack of leverage that forced them to accommodate Illinois and Florida State. The NCAA can afford to lose North Dakota, but not FSU. In some ways, the NCAA’s grasp on its member institutions is actually somewhat weak, which is why they cannot impose any sort of football playoff.


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29 Responses to Indians and Native Americans

  1. Peter says:

    Surely the most amusing tribes-and-casino story involves the Mohegan tribe in Connecticut and their Mohegan Sun casino. Some years ago the Navy made a large tract of surplus land north of New London available to the State of Connecticut to use as it saw fit. The site was about ten miles away from the Foxwoods casino, which the Pequot tribe had opened not long before and which already had become a huge success. State officials figured that building a casino on the former Navy land would create a sort of regional gambling hub, with thousands of new jobs and all sorts of new state revenues (Indian casinos are required to pay a percentage of revenues to states).

    Only one problem: there wasn’t any actual tribe associated with the former Navy site. Some research showed that the Mohegan tribe had occupied the general area centuries earlier. Which wasn’t much of a solution, because as far as anyone could tell the tribe no longer existed. Fear not! The state commissioned genealogical research to come up with some people whose ancestors may have had some association with the tribe, stories related by their grandparents, that sort of thing, and arranged for them to form a modern tribe. The “reconstituted” Mohegans got federal approval to open a casino, and today the Mohegan Sun is the largest casino in the United States and the largest in the world outside of Macau.

  2. Dave says:

    Yeah, the Mohegan business was complete b.s. I don’t think that’s the only example of faux Indians running an East Coast casino though. We just don’t have that many real Indians around here anymore.

    “I wish we could go back to the drawing board and use “Amerindians” as the CIA World Factbook and other sources do.”

    The difference in names between “Indian” and “Amerindian” has nothing to do with stereotypes. And I fail to see what would be so much better about “Amerindian”? I don’t even know why you were surprised that you local Indians are happy being called Indians. Why not? They’ve been called that for centuries. Since the various tribes on this continent spoke a number of different languages, “Indian” was probably the first word any of them heard that described all of them.

    More to the point, Indians and other non-black minority groups tend not to have the same issue with group names that African American activists do. Asking people to use a clunky seven syllable phrase to refer to them, instead of the one syllable word they routinely use themselves (black) is unique to (some) African Americans. Asians, for example, usually have no problem with “oriental” even if politically correct folks don’t like it. Same with Hispanics, who usually don’t demand to be called by the more politically correct term “Latino/Latina”.

  3. trumwill says:

    And I fail to see what would be so much better about “Amerindian”?

    Because Indians are people from (or with ancestors from) that country in South Asia. That’s the main problem I have with the term (once I discovered that most don’t seem to object to the term itself). We need different terms to differentiate between this kind of Indian and that. Amerindian does that.

    I disagree about “oriental”. That was the term I used growing up and it was actual Asian-Americans and not liberal whites who corrected me on that.

  4. Peter says:

    Yeah, the Mohegan business was complete b.s. I don’t think that’s the only example of faux Indians running an East Coast casino though. We just don’t have that many real Indians around here anymore.

    The Shinnecock tribe on Long Island recently got the federal approval that’s a prerequisite for opening a gambling casino, and they’re currently looking around for appropriate sites. They actually are a legitimate tribe, though due to decades of racial mixing most of them don’t look like the stereotypical image of American Indians even though they do have a distinctive look for the most part. Some of them actually look a bit like the other type of Indians.

  5. SFG says:

    There’s actually a Dutch soccer team (Ajax) that calls itself the Jews as a nickname. Which of course leads to Nazi jokes from their arch-rival…

  6. trumwill says:

    I would say that’s such an odd choice for a mascot, but then I’m sure they feel the same way about a lot of our mascots.

  7. DaveinHackensack says:

    “Because Indians are people from (or with ancestors from) that country in South Asia.”

    Yeah, I’m aware of that. But “Indian” is still part of the word “Amerindian“, so I still don’t see how that’s a big improvement. If there’s any chance of confusion, “American Indian” is commonly used. But in most cases, it’s clear from the context who you are referring to, so there’s no confusion with “Indian”. E.g., you don’t need to tell me you drove by an “American Indian” reservation in Montana, because I know that there are no reservations for people from India there.

    As far as oriental goes, a Chinese-American man in Atlantic City — a friend of a friend — once handed me his card and it said “Director of Oriental Marketing”. Maybe the difference was that he was primarily marketing to foreigners and recent immigrants, and the person who chastened you for using “oriental” was born here.

  8. trumwill says:

    But “Indian” is still part of the word “Amerindian“, so I still don’t see how that’s a big improvement.

    I see an improvement because it’s a distinct word. Drawn from the Indian misidentification, but also recognizable because of that. More recognizable than a new word cut from new cloth would be. When I ran across the word in the factbook, it’s meaning was immediately apparent. I’ve settled on “tribes” because people know what I mean and I don’t have to clarify that I don’t mean “Indian Indian” or “Native American” in the sense that I am a native American in the actual meaning of the words.

    If there’s any chance of confusion, “American Indian” is commonly used.

    Except people don’t now if there is a chance of confusion. And an American Indian isn’t a different type of the same thing as an Indian Indian, it’s a different thing. So a different word strikes me as appropriate. Also, Indian Indian or Indian from India is clunky.

    I do get caught flat-footed on this from time to time. An Indian Restaurant being an American Indian Restaurant rather than an Indian Indian restaurant or someone being referred to as Indian when it is assumed I know that they mean one or the other.

    I would prefer different, and less clunky, terminology to differentiate between my American Indian neighbor, my Indian-American friend, and my Indian-from-India coworkers at the large software company in the northwest.

    For that matter, I would prefer that there be a better term for (what I refer to as) South Asian (I guess Indo-Aryan is the correct/closest term, but it’s not something people know). This is why I thought that oriental was such a good word. It had a concrete meaning that was easily understood as a racial designation apart from precise land-of-origin and current location. Caucasian, as I understood it, was also a good word in this respect (though I imagine its usage would drive anthropologists nuts) and simple “white” and “black” are okay words, even though we’re talking about peach and brown.

    I guess it’s a personality quirk that I want specific words for a lot of things my language, unfortunately, does not provide. And I also get annoyed when people bleed terminology over and confuse clarity. This has less to do with our current conversation and more to do (in another subject I am discussing elsewhere) with when people use terms like “stars and bars” in reference to the Confederate Jack (“The Confederate Flag”) when the S&B and the CJ are two different flags. Yes, I “know what you mean” but taking the S&B and applying it to the Confederate Jack, I now have to come up with a new word or phrase for what the Stars & Bars actually refers to.

    Anyway, back on topic…

    and the person who chastened you for using “oriental” was born here.

    More than one before I realized that it wasn’t an isolated, thin-skinned individual, but yeah, they were born here. I had a lot of Asian-American acquaintances (by which I mean Americans of East Asian descent because technically my Indian-American friend is also Asian-American) from back in my BBS days.

  9. Brandon Berg says:

    I find the term “Asian” as used to describe specifically East and Southeast Asians to be somewhat problematic because, as you point out, most Asians aren’t East or Southeast Asians. And in Britain, “Asian” refers to South Asians and East Asians are called “Oriental,” and nobody finds this objectionable.

    I don’t really get the objections to “oriental,” though. I mean, I get why the N-word is offensive. It has a long history of being used by racists as a slur. And for a while “colored people” was okay, but then racists picked up on that and started using it as a slur, too, so I get why that’s offensive (though I can’t say I get why “people of color” is now the cutting-edge PC term, when it’s pretty much the same).

    “Oriental,” though, I don’t get. As far as I know, it doesn’t have a history of being used as a slur. The main complaint I’ve heard about it is that it has historically been used to impart connotations of exoticness. I’m not entirely sure why this should make it offensive, but it’s kind of a moot point because “Asian” is uesd in exactly the same way. So I guess in 5-10 years “Asian” will be offensive, too. You read it here first.

    On the original topic, I knew an Indian-American girl who came to work on Halloween wearing a headband with a feather in it. I laughed. An Indian-American American Indian.

  10. Brandon Berg says:

    By the way, is all this obsessing over racial terminology a uniquely American phenomenon? I’m not aware of it happening elsewhere, but I’m not sure I would be if it were.

  11. DaveinHackensack says:

    “I do get caught flat-footed on this from time to time. An Indian Restaurant being an American Indian Restaurant rather than an Indian Indian restaurant or someone being referred to as Indian when it is assumed I know that they mean one or the other.”

    There aren’t any American Indian (feather) restaurants here, so everyone knows when you refer to an Indian restaurant you are referring to one that serves the cuisine of India.

    “For that matter, I would prefer that there be a better term for (what I refer to as) South Asian (I guess Indo-Aryan is the correct/closest term, but it’s not something people know).”

    Nah, Indo-Aryan isn’t a great term. Better might be Desi, though it’s a term I’ve only heard used by Americans of South Asian descent themselves.

    ““Oriental,” though, I don’t get. As far as I know, it doesn’t have a history of being used as a slur. The main complaint I’ve heard about it is that it has historically been used to impart connotations of exoticness.”

    That came from Edward Said, who spouted the nonsense, that, essentially, there was something offensive about Westerners even studying other cultures. “Oriental” used to refer to the Middle East (Southwest Asia) as well as the Far East.

    “By the way, is all this obsessing over racial terminology a uniquely American phenomenon?”

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it is. One anecdote: a friend and I were at an Internet cafe in Brazil, which was owned by a woman of Portuguese descent who had a black waitress working for her. In Portuguese the word “black” and “dish” are pretty close — “preto” and “prato”. My friend used the wrong word to refer to his dish and the black waitress helpfully corrected him, pointing to her skin to demonstrate that preto meant black. She wasn’t offended in the least.

  12. Peter says:

    Indo-Aryan isn’t a great term. Better might be Desi, though it’s a term I’ve only heard used by Americans of South Asian descent themselves

    I’ve heard mostly older people use the term “East Indian” to describe South Asians. It seems to have fallen into disuse.

  13. DaveinHackensack says:

    I’ve heard mostly older people use the term “East Indian” to describe South Asians. It seems to have fallen into disuse.

    That might have originated with Indians (from India) in the Caribbean (the West Indies). A lot of them ended up in the British West Indies (e.g., Trinidad, which is where the famous Anglo-Indian novelist V.S. Naipaul grew up).

  14. David Alexander says:

    More to the point, Indians and other non-black minority groups tend not to have the same issue with group names that African American activists do.

    For sampling purposes, as a black person, I prefer the term “Caribbean/Caribbean-American” as the other term “African-American” is insulting to the idea that my ancestors spent roughly 200 years with their own unique identity and culture in the Caribbean before coming to the States. FWIW, a lot of first wave immigrants from the 1960s to 1980s and their children tend to identity this way, while newer immigrants tend not to obsess over that difference. Otherwise, I really don’t have a problem with being called black.

    Caribbean (the West Indies)

    My mom still clings to the term West Indian. Mind you, that’s what they were called back in the late 1960s when she immigrated…

    “By the way, is all this obsessing over racial terminology a uniquely American phenomenon?”

    I come from a country where “black” people obsess over skin tone and start defining themselves by skin tones to assert some degree of social and cultural security. In America, it’s amplified by the fact that we’re still dealing with the legacy of slavery and racism and we have a healthy liberal arts establishment that feeds the obsession, but racial status games are common place in other countries.

    prato

    I believe you mean Pardo, and Pardo is the large hazy mixed race category that the Brazilians use in lieu of calling them black…

  15. TE says:

    In defense of black people, I’ve never actually heard of one of them in everyday life taking offense to being called “black” instead of “african american”. I think that’s just something that some ethnic studies professors made up and tried to push down peoples throats. Just like the celebration of “Kwanzaa”, which seems to be celebrated by only a very tiny minority of actual black people.

  16. trumwill says:

    The main complaint I’ve heard about it is that it has historically been used to impart connotations of exoticness

    It was explained to me that an oriental is a rug and they are people of Asian descent and not rugs. I still don’t get it, but I try to respect “don’t use that term” when it’s not unreasonable.

    For sampling purposes, as a black person, I prefer the term “Caribbean/Caribbean-American” as the other term “African-American” is insulting to the idea that my ancestors spent roughly 200 years with their own unique identity and culture in the Caribbean before coming to the States. FWIW

    This is one of my problems with the term African-American. To me, it means something distinct from simply “black.” It also puts me in a spot with regards to a white acquaintance who was born in Africa…

    Same problem with Asian-American. It’s not that I have a problem with “hyphenated American” but I think of it as something different in meaning than a racial designation.

    In defense of black people, I’ve never actually heard of one of them in everyday life taking offense to being called “black” instead of “african american”

    This is my (relatively limited) experience as well. Even among whites, actually, I’ve never been called on using the term “black”, which I generally favor instead of African-American.

  17. trumwill says:

    I wanted to comment to thank everybody for the tone of the discussion, which has not gone at all the way that I fear race-based posts often do. So thank you.

  18. Mike Hunt says:

    I try to respect “don’t use that term” when it’s not unreasonable.

    That’s the thing. The dislike of the word “Oriental” is unreasonable in my mind. Saying Asian is for people and Oriental is for rugs is completely arbitrary. Especially since Oriental is more specific than Asian; I know what someone means when they say Oriental and when someone says Asian, I DON’T know what they mean without context. Both Harold and Kumar are Asian.

    I wanted to comment to thank everybody for the tone of the discussion, which has not gone at all the way that I fear race-based posts often do. So thank you.

    I think you are a little too sensitive about this matter. It is possible to have robust, vigorous debate about this matter without it turning into Half Sigma.

  19. trumwill says:

    That’s the thing. The dislike of the word “Oriental” is unreasonable in my mind.

    That was what I thought when I was first tut-tutted about it. By the second or third time, though, it seemed to me that it was something widely enough held that using the term tended to distract communication.

    I think you are a little too sensitive about this matter. It is possible to have robust, vigorous debate about this matter without it turning into Half Sigma.

    I probably am. Every now and again I post something I am not sure about (like this one, actually) to see where the conversation goes. Worked out well in this case, but in others it did turn ugly.

    Worth noting is that Sigma’s site would be a lot worse if it weren’t for the irksome moderation.

  20. DaveinHackensack says:

    “I believe you mean Pardo”.

    No, I don’t. Preto is Portuguese for black, which is what the waitress was. Pardo is a different word.

  21. Mike Hunt says:

    Pardo has been the announcer for SNL since its inception, except for the 81-82 season.

    Tribe would be a good nickname for Tel Aviv’s basketball team…

  22. Maria says:

    I see nothing wrong with referring to “East Indians.” This was the term used when I was growing up in California, where there were a lot of people from the Subcontinent in the agricultural industry. Ditto “West Indian” for Caribbeans.

    “Indian” has a unique connotation in U.S. history and giving it up means rewriting our history books, our literature. Why should we rewrite our history just because “East Indians” are late-comers to the U.S. immigration party? They wouldn’t do it for us, if the positions were reversed.

    I’m reminded of a bumper sticker I saw once on the freeway. It read: “Proud to be an American Indian. America: Love it, or Give It Back.”

    I’ve only known a few feather-Indians in my life, but of those, a majority were very hard-assed, right-wing Marines. They seemed to like the U.S. military a lot.

  23. trumwill says:

    “Indian” has a unique connotation in U.S. history and giving it up means rewriting our history books, our literature.

    They’re already being rewritten, just with the misnomer Native American. Except with reference to some of the artwork (a painting entitled “A Cowboy And An Indian” in a caption, for example), the term Indian was nowhere to be found in our (American) history books in schools.

    Honestly, none of the East Indians I’ve known have ever really been offended by our appropriation of the term. My rationale has less to do with offensiveness and more to do with clarity. Up until this conversation, I’d never really heard “East Indians” as a term before. I would have assumed it meant “someone from East India.”

  24. trumwill says:

    Only tangentially related, but I may actually insert a clarity problem in a novel series I am contemplating. It involves a state named Newe Sogobia (I have a thing for fictional states, I suppose), named with reference to the Eastern Shoshona tribe in the region. The problem is that there is a Newe Sogobia claimed by the Western Shoshona tribe in Nevada (stretching elsewhere) and they object to their name being absconded for a US state. So there’s a push to rename the state East Sogobia (mostly limited to academia and transplants from California). The Democrats within the state have a problem because a lot of their liberal supporters feel very strongly about the subject, but it’s enormously unpopular with the state’s residents (even those that are Democrats). The populist Democratic Governor (the one previously mentioned in another comment that would informally create state-protected pot fields to reverse the state’s economy) endears himself to the voters by taking this up as an issue within the Democratic Party, lambasting the “snivelling cultural apologists and California transplants” that view changing the state’s name as yet another way to apologize for being here in the first place.

    Anyway, whether a person within the novel refers to the state as Newe Sogobia, East Sogobia, or just Sogobia (for those that want no part of the debate or want to eliminate two syllables) becomes a form of self-identification vis-a-vis political correctness (or antipathy towards it).

  25. Maria says:

    They’re already being rewritten, just with the misnomer Native American.

    Not in historical docs such as the Declaration of Independence, or classic lit such as Mark Twain. We haven’t sunk that low yet, I think. You might want to check out the forum at Bad Eagle, a forum for conservative indigenous people, where the host once posted a rather compelling plea for East Indian immigrants “not to take our name.”

    That said, my experience with the indigenes of our country is that the term they prefer above all is the name of their tribe; i.e. they want to be called Cherokees, Seminoles, Commanches, etc. Which makes sense, since many tribes had greatly varying cultures and were often enemies of each other until the consolidating term “Indian” was applied to them by white colonials.

  26. trumwill says:

    Oh yeah, the historical documents themselves won’t be changed.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the indigenous vs other Indians “taking their name”. They would have a stronger case if we had actually renamed the nation of India to East India (or something else) somewhere along the way (as we call Deutschland Germany rather than some variation of Deutschland).

    Regarding the individual tribes, that’s what I understand to be the case as well. That much of the “don’t call us Indians” is a plea to be called by their individual tribes. The problem with that is that we still need a word to collectively describe the (disparate) people(s) that were here when we got here. You need a “European” equivalent in addition to a “French/German/Spanish”

  27. Maria says:

    Of course the issue is even more complicated by the fact that most indigenous seem to be mixed-race now, or often, mixed-tribe. Rams QB Sam Bradford for example who is an enrolled member of the Cherokee tribe, but is only one-16th Cherokee.

    As I understand it, you can be a full-blood Cherokee but if you don’t have a history of an ancestor officially included on federal tribal rolls, you are not a member of any of the Cherokee nations, while white boy Sam Bradford is. Weird, huh? Check out the current chief of the largest Cherokee nation, Chad Smith (he’s the guy in the top right-hand corner.)http://www.chadsmith.com/ArchiveSite/about.htm

    My dad’s family were part-Indian but none were apparently enrolled. Not many good records were kept on the frontier by individual homesteaders. I just get a very good suntan in the summer, and I have an early 20th-century photo I think that is them, printed on old-fashoned photo cardboard, which I got from an old family album, but have no idea of their names and exact relationship, as no one thought to write it down. That’s my family. “Oh who would want Uncle Harry’s old junk? Let’s throw it all away!” They probably tossed a couple of volume’s worth of living U.S.history inito the town dump.

  28. Maria says:

    The problem with that is that we still need a word to collectively describe the (disparate) people(s) that were here when we got here.

    I’d vote for American Indians then. Who cares if it’s clunky?

  29. Maria says:

    PS — Indians in the NFL: did you know that the first NFL Commissioner was Jim Thorpe? (The office was called “President” back then rather than Commissioner, though.)

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