This academic year, THE QUESTION returns with interesting questions designed to spark respectful and enlightening discussion. Even when our questions pose challenging and uncomfortable topics, as will happen with this issue and others, we hope you will enjoy the process of patiently thinking about some big ideas.
We begin in collaboration with WVU's Native American Studies Program, offering some perspectives on the view that the use of caricatures and stereotypes of Native American people is unacceptable and needs to stop. Among other places, we see examples of these in sports mascots and logos. Honestly facing the history of genocidal acts carried out against Native Americans, including attempts at forced assimilation, is a helpful place to begin to understand the thinking behind opposition to so-called “Indian” mascots. Broadly speaking, Native languages, spiritual and cultural practices, and traditional stories were nearly wiped out in the process of European colonization and settlement of this country. Most Americans lack a serious understanding of Native history and culture. All of us, especially those who are members of a university community, have an obligation to understand and preserve history, thus contributing to a contemporary society where people can interact with empathy and civility. When a group has been made to feel invisible, and then told they are being "honored" with ridiculous, inaccurate, humiliating, or disrespectful representations, it is a violation of the basic duty to treat people with dignity and respect. Those who pretend to be Indians for entertainment and fun, revving up team spirit by playing around with objects, practices, dress, and traditions that have sacred meaning, offend and belittle (whether or not they intend to do so). This issue of THE QUESTION is devoted to opening up a discussion that helps to illuminate why so many people are in favor of ending the use of so-called "Indian" mascots, and to explaining why this debate is really not just a question about mascots.