In the past, naming your local high school sports team the Redskins may have been an acceptable nod to history. But in reality, it’s a racist assault on an entire population.
The Teton High Redskins in Driggs came under fire last year, part of a national debate circling the National Football League’s Washington Redskins.
Like with the NFL team, the argument surrounding Teton High pits traditionalists who want to cling to local tradition against new American political correctness, a movement birthed from recognition of the social wrongs leveled against so many minority groups over our history.
It’s true that political correctness is censorship. But in this case, it’s well founded.
Do we name teams the San Antonio Wetbacks or the Los Angeles Zipperheads? No, we don’t. Using a racially charged adjective, based solely on complexion, to describe Native Americans is no different and carries with it historic justifications for oppression and genocide. It’s a term from a time when the color of one’s skin was a measure of one’s ability. Teton High, like the billionaire owner of Washington’s team, should recognize this fact and do the right thing.
The Idaho Council on Indian Affairs took up the issue of “offensive” high school mascots last week. The collection of regional tribes hopes to do a better job of reaching out to districts that have assumed generalized, racially tone-deaf mascots in the name of school pride.
Council members said they have no problem with teams named the Indians. We agree that the Shoshone Indians and the Buhl Indians are acceptable nods to history. The students at those schools are reminded every day that there was a people here before their ancestors settled the Magic Valley. The same can be said for the University of Utah Utes, which recognizes a civilization that made the region home centuries before white manifest destiny.
But the Salmon High Savages, crosses the line. It’s a term loaded with the baggage of history. It’s a phrase used to justify slaughter and bigotry, a point repeatedly made by leaders of the Lemhi-Shoshone tribe. If the Buhl Indians is a nod to the past, so is the Salmon Savages. But Salmon’s namesake represents the dehumanization of an entire race. Buhl acknowledges a peoples’ fortitude. Salmon and Teton merely degrade.
Sports mascots are designed to represent strength, and we’re not of the ilk that believe pro, college or high school teams need to completely ignore certain groups because of the nation’s sometimes ugly history. But educational institutions are supposed to be open-minded and honest about what we are and where we come from. Even at schools with the Indian mascot, the generic, erroneous war whoops and tribal dances should be left to the spaghetti westerns.
Co-opting a people, while simultaneously demeaning an entire way of life, is only showing reverence to a shameful past. Teton and Salmon are on the wrong side of history.