Jacqueline Keeler, an Oregon-based Navajo and Yankton Dakota journalist, tweeted “why Indian mascots need to end in a picture” and attached a snapshot of a Sonic Drive-In sign.
The sign was outside a Missouri restaurant of the fast-food chain and referenced an upcoming National Football League game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Redskins in December 2013. The sign read, ” ‘KC CHIEFS’ WILL SCALP THE REDSKINS FEED THEM WHISKEY SEND – 2 – RESERVATION.”
Keeler’s tweet criticizing the restaurant went viral.
In a way, that was the beginning, Keeler told an audience at the Pearson Air Museum on Saturday. The fast food restaurant quickly apologized. Social media gave American Indians a voice, and people were listening. During the Super Bowl, 18,000 tweets had the hashtag #NotYourMascot.
But in many other ways, Keeler said, American Indians have been trying for decades to stop the use of Native caricatures as mascots.
“In America, there is no other ethnic group so casually subjected to such treatment; we are repulsed as a society by black or Asian caricatures or stereotypes, but Native people are not regarded the same,” Keeler wrote in an article for Slate magazine last year.
Keeler spoke as part of the Clark County Historical Museum’s annual Women’s History Month program. Keeler is a key founder of the group “Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry.”
It’s not simply the use of an American Indian image, Keeler said, although those are offensive and often highlight a lack of awareness, but it’s also what often comes with using the caricature of the American Indian — a normalizing and reinforcement of outdated stereotypes.
Keeler hopes the use of “redface” will soon be seen as difficult to watch as say, Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of I.Y. Yunioshi in the 1961 film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Keeler said she has a hard time watching Rooney play a “yellow-faced” character and hopes someday the use of “redface images” will be considered equally offensive.
Larry Smith, a Vancouver city councilor, was in attendance and asked Keeler about places where American Indians have endorsed the use of Native mascots, such as the Florida State Seminoles.
Keeler said she spoke to American Indian students who attended the university who felt uncomfortable. It’s not a feeling she’s unfamiliar with, she said. Keeler attended Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school, that had the nickname “the Indians.”
When schools participate in American Indian traditions, often misusing cultural symbols, it’s resurrecting old stereotypes and giving them new life, she said. People stop seeing the humanity in American Indians; instead, they are seen as some kind of novelty.
Headdresses, she said, were not created to be worn to look sexy at concerts.