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American Indian Group Crusades To Rid Sports of Indian Nicknames

January 16, 1988

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Team names like the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians have no more place in sports than would the San Diego Caucasians or Kansas City Jews, says a group fighting Indian references it considers racist.

Concerned American Indian Parents is distributing 1,000 posters featuring pennants for the fictitious teams. The poster, which also pictures an authentic Cleveland Indians pennant, is designed to raise awareness of the issue by offending people, said Phil St. John, leader of the Minneapolis-based group.

″To most people Indian nicknames are disconnected from being racist,″ St. John said. ″They can’t talk about the pain because they don’t feel it.″

The posters were created by Minneapolis-based Martin-Williams Advertising Inc. and funded in part by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Copies have been circulated around the country and mailed to team owners, including the Redskins’ Jack Kent Cooke.

St. John mailed a letter to Cooke on Thursday pleading for a change in the Redskins’ name. A change in the name of the National Football League team would be an enormous catalyst for widespread change, St. John said.

The team name is ″racist, derogatory and demeaning to the American Indian,″ he wrote. He compared it to racial slurs for blacks and Mexicans which ″would be totally unacceptable to the American people″ as team names.

″I have no comment,″ Cooke said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.

Other names the group would like to see changed include the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, St. John’s Redmen and North Dakota Fighting Sioux.

They and others at all levels of sports reinforce the stereotype of the savage Indian, said Roy James Roberts, a member of the year-old group that has about 25 members.

″It’s always the image of war-like Indians,″ said Fred Veilleux, another member of the group. ″We weren’t the aggressors.″

Veilleux said Indian-derived team nicknames foster a ″cowboy mentality″ that Indians were ″savage agressors of good white Christians who crossed the West in wagon trains taming the wild.″

Before tackling major league teams, St. John lobbied Southwest High School in Minneapolis in May to change its nickname from Indians to Lakers, for the city’s many lakes.

The idea came to him at a basketball game at which he and his 8-year-old son sat near a white fan who was dressed as an Indian warrior.

″He didn’t want to look over there because he was ashamed of that,″ St. John said of his son.

He said the incident reminded him of his youth in Sisseton, S.D., where ″being Indian was held against you.″

After three months of meetings and explaining his request to faculty, students and parents, the school changed its nickname to the Lakers.

″It just did not make sense that you could choose a race of a people to be a mascot or a nickname for a school,″ said Harlan Anderson, Southwest’s principal.

Anderson said there was little resistance to the change, partly because the school had backed away from Indian symbols after receiving similar complaints in the late 1970s.

Critics argue that Indian-derived nicknames glorify the heritage of American Indians, calling to mind strength, athletic prowess and bravery.

But St. John argues that fans of opposing teams use racist slogans such as ″scalp the Indians″ and burn Indians in effigy. Once, on national television, an announcer previewing a Washington Redskins game opened with a warning that the Redskins were on the ″warpath″ and that their opponents should ″circle the wagons″ and protect their women and children, St. John said.

″It just goes on and on and that’s what it leads to,″ St. John said. ″A person can deal with the positives, but it goes further than that.″

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