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In Whose Honor?: American Indian Mascots in Sports

Distributed by New Day Films,190 Route 17M, P.O. Box 1084, Harriman, NY 10926; 888-367-9154 or 845-774-7051
Produced by Jay Rosenstein
Director n/a
VHS, color, 46 min.
High School - Adult
Popular Culture, Sociology, Sports

Reviewed by Orlando Archibeque, Auraria Library, University of Colorado at Denver

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   

Since the 1960s, a number of colleges and universities (Stanford, Dartmouth, Syracuse, and Oklahoma) have dropped their Native American sports mascots and nicknames, but this practice continues at both collegiate (e.g. the University of Illinois Fighting Illini and the Florida State University Seminoles) and professional levels (e.g. the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Indians, and Washington Redskins).

This video is about why Native Americans challenge the continued use of such mascots and nicknames by colleges and professional sports teams, and how and why alumni, college administrators and students, and sports fans defend this practice. The video's title is a challenge to one of the major defenses of this practice -- that the use of these mascots and nicknames honors Native Americans.

Specifically, it tells the story of Charlene Teters, a Native American graduate student at the University of Illinois who, shortly after attending a 1989 basketball game with her two young children, protested the university's use and promotion of "Chief Illiniwek". "The Chief", as he is affectionately known by fans and supporters of the University of Illinois, dons Native American costume and dances a wardance during halftimes of football and basketball games. (We learn in the video that neither the dance nor the costume are authentic.) Teters did not set out to become a major leader (at the time, she was a graduate art student and mother of two) in the national movement to protest the use of Indians as mascots in sports, but she in fact became the movement's most well-known figure. The video is at its best when it shows Teters explaining (at times rationally and at times emotionally) why the use of such nicknames and mascots is offensive to Native Americans.

The other side is also presented, but not as favorably. Brief clips of interviews with various alumni, trustees, fans, and former Chief Illiniweks are interspersed with brief clips of Teters and other Native American leaders. Defenders of Chief Illiniwek speak of tradition, honor, cultural preservation, freedom of speech, and majority rule. Native Americans challenge these arguments. Though both sides are presented, it is clear that the video's producer is on the side of the Native Americans.

This issue of Chief Illiniwek is placed within the larger historical context of the Native American rights movement. In addition, the video shows Teters and others protesting (and also shows the counter-protesters) at major sporting events, particularly the 1992 Super Bowl (Buffalo Bills vs. Washington Redskins).

One glaring omission should be mentioned -- there is no discussion of the use of Indian nicknames and mascots at hundreds of middle- and high-schools across the country. An exploration of this subtopic could have shed some light on this divisive issue.

This video is highly recommended for adult audiences (high school age and up). It makes excellent use of interview clips, video footage of Chief Illiniwek, archival material from the University of Illinois, and still photographs from a number of repositories. The Native American flute, played by Bill Miller, adds an authentic musical touch. Though it is on the side of the Native Americans, it does present both sides of the issue, and can be used in any number of college courses to stimulate discussion about culture clash, majority/minority relations, freedom of speech, and multiculturalism. It is particularly suited for lower- and upper-division multicultural courses in ethnic studies, sociology, education, and history.