Savage Media, created by a group of Native American students at Dartmouth College, published a video this week to call for an end to Native American mascots. Through the delivery of a poem, Preston Wells, of the Choctaw Nation and a junior at Dartmouth College, imagines what the Indian mascot–a fictitious, yet familiar caricature–would say if he could speak.
Supporters of Indian mascots "tell us to feel honored," Wells said over the phone. "It's not like they're doing this knowing that it's offensive. It's a Native American trope and it's not just with sports mascots. It's a stereotype that bleeds into other areas. It's just so ridiculously offensive, that it's almost comedic. You almost have to laugh so it doesn't affect you."
Here's an excerpt from the poem:
Usually people call me 'Chief' because you make me dance in front of thousands.
Stack a headdress on me like bricks.
Suffocate me in buckskin like sweat–cold and heavy.
I have been worn for too long.
You'll take off that shirt at day's end, but when will it be my turn?
It's hard to breathe on cotton. Just another form of relocation.
Throw me in with your dirty clothes, do your laundry.
Wash me good enough to wipe my bravery weak.
I am hurting…
Wells produced the piece to highlight how "fake" Indian mascots are and to differentiate who real–living, breathing Native peoples–are from the Hollywood construct.
"When I tell someone I'm Native, the only image they ever know of is the Indian mascot," Wells said. "Sometimes it leads them to asking me really stereotypical questions. If we get rid of [the Indian mascot], then we can have more sovereignty over our images."
The video accompanied an opinion piece for Last Real Indians, penned by Dartmouth College senior, Autumn White Eyes, who is Oglala Lakota and Ojibwa, titled "Indian Mascots, a Privileged Fight." White Eyes was featured in an earlier Savage Media video which was an open letter to Urban Outfitters, known throughout Indian Country for its "gross cultural and religious appropriation of sacred American Indian traditional designs and objects."
Savage Media was created to "deconstruct offensive images and appropriations of Native peoples and others" and the name of the group was inspired by the desire to reclaim the loaded word and often overused term, "savage."
"It's ironic. It's cutting edge," Wells said. "It's also a way to describe how we interact with our art and present our art and where we are in our lives. We're probably the most radical now than we will ever be in our lives."
Radical, yes, but also thoughtful.
"When I was growing up, my parents taught me to respect other people," Wells said regarding the undying support sports mascots get from fans. "When someone tells me that something is offensive or hurtful, I'm not going to keep doing whatever is harming them. It's one of the basic laws of humanity. The Indian mascot is dehumanizing."
The song used in the video, called "The Road," was produced by Canadian Aboriginal DJ group, A Tribe Called Red.