Indigenous Stereotypes in Sports

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The Heard Museum is hosting a symposium focused on indigenous stereotypes in sports. Dr. Leo Killsback, professor of American Indian Studies at ASU talks about the acceptance of American Indian stereotypes in sports and society today.

Tomorrow the Heard Museum in Phoenix is hosting a symposium focusing on indigenous stereotypes in sports, there will be a panel discussion to talk about the reason behind the broad acceptance of American indian stereotypes in sports and society today. We welcome back Dr. Leo Killsback Professor of American Indian Studies at ASU. Professor Killsback, welcome to Horizonte. You're one of the panelists and the keynote speaker is a former ASU professor. What is it that you think you'll get out of or hope to convey at the symposium?

Leo Killsback: I think folks who attend the symposium will see the connection stereotypes aimed at American Indians, and the connections these stereotypes have in policy and in the -- in shaping and reshaping how Indians are treated in America.

Jose Cardenas: You've got among the panelists some people involved in litigation with the professional football team in Washington. A controversy that has touched Arizona because we've had -- when they were here playing against the Cardinals you had a picture of the President of the Navajo Nation in the box with the owner of the Washington professional football team. How did that play?

Leo Killsback: I think that's evidence that not all American Indians -- that American Indians are divided on the issue. Some folks who have been fighting against negative stereotypes for a number of years know the issues, and there has been numerous studies out there that have been published that reveal how these stereotypes affect people. And there's another population of American Indians out there who probably did not understand the intricacies. And that's -- we should limit ourselves to American Indians who support change. The vast majority of non-Indian people support the teams, people of color who supports the teams. And I think that's evidence that shows that there's more -- this issue needs to be covered more by the media, and that folks should be speaking out about it, speaking out against the negative effects that this has on Indian children especially.

Jose Cardenas: What do you say to people who say, look, there are these American Indians who support this team and take pride in that team and the use of that name. What do you say to that?

Leo Killsback: It's actually a small population who would be willing to speak out and say they support a team. There's a larger population of American Indians as we've seen in protests in places like Minnesota and here in Phoenix and Glendale when the team came to play the Arizona Cardinals. And to focus on that division doesn't necessarily give us credit to the number of professionals, including myself, who have done extensive research and who have done -- who are professionals in their area of study, who do -- who can make those connections of the effects of negative stereotypes that challenge -- that have negative effects in the country.

Jose Cardenas: One of the things that's been somewhat controversial is the team in Washington has a foundation. And they have used that foundation to provide grants to various tribes across the country, including I think to tribes in Arizona. Is that good? Bad? Do you think it's wrong for tribes to accept those funds?

Leo Killsback: I think that is a clear example of the efforts that the team has used to divide and conquer Indian communities, in particular exploiting poor Indian communities who may not have the funding available to build infrastructure. And to actually buy support from the Indian people, that's a controversy in itself, I think. Folks need to look at that as not a case of authentic support, if they actually have to buy the support from the Indian community.

Jose Cardenas: So the theme of the symposium is why is there broad acceptance of the stereotypes as it relates to American Indians, when if it were a different ethnic group we'd probably all be up in arms saying, how can you do this, it's wrong. What do you think is the answer to that problem?

Leo Killsback: I think for a number of years, since the colonization of America, American Indian people have been perceived as savages and perceived as not human. And this has been widely accepted for a long time. Other ethnic groups, other peoples of color, they sort of abandoned racist language. For example, the equivalent for the R word for the Washington teams, for an African-American group would be very offensive, so offensive that I wouldn't want to say it on air here. But if there is a team that referenced the skin color of an entire group of people, that was a national football team, I think the entire country would be pretty upset about that. And there seems to be an exception for Indian people. We've been going on deeper into this argument, I've heard people say that we are actually honoring Indian people, they are honoring people. You never -- you never tell a people -- you never tell another ethnic group what they are thinking. For some reason it's okay to tell an Indian person what they are thinking. Why can't you Indian people understand that we're honoring you? I've heard that argument time and time again. It's very unacceptable. We are human beings and we've been trying to prove that for ages.

Jose Cardenas: I guess the one bright spot here is that there is more attention being paid to this now, the one bright spot. Hopefully there will be changes in the coming years. Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about this issue, pleasure having you.

Leo Killsback: Thank you.

Dr. Leo Killsback:Professor, American Indian Studies at Arizona State University;

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