National Museum of the American Indian

Ending the Use of Racist Mascots and Images

People protest against the name of the Washington, D.C., NFL team before a game between Washington and the Minnesota Vikings. Minneapolis, November 2, 2014. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
People protest against the name of the Washington, D.C., NFL team before a game between Washington and the Minnesota Vikings. Minneapolis, November 2, 2014. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

As the country debates racist symbolism in monuments, racist names and mascots for sports teams, and racially charged images as brands, the conversation has turned to the Washington, D.C., NFL franchise and the announcement that the team will consider changing its name. Unfortunately, some of the new names discussed in the media continue to allude to Native America—under the banner of honoring Native peoples.

The museum strongly believes that Native names, other words associated with Native people, and Native-inspired mascots do not honor Indigenous people, our histories, or our cultures. On the contrary: Any team name or image that evokes Native people emboldens disrespectful fans to continue to paint their faces, don headdresses, and act out faux-Native performances.

The commercial use of images and words that evoke Native cultures perpetuates racism and legitimizes racist acts. As the Washington football team navigates its way forward under pressure from sponsors, the mayor of the city it claims to represent, and many other Americans working to build a fairer society, we strongly support sports teams and other organizations that end the use of Native American imagery depicting racism. Let’s get this right.

Kevin Gover is the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.

Bill Lomax is the chair of the Board of Trustees for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and a member of the Gitxsan nation.

To read more on the impact of Native American team names and mascots, see Kevin Gover’s commentary “Dear Dan Snyder: Don’t pick a new Native-inspired team name” in the Washington Post.