Using the highly sophisticated method of "asking around" I've determined that most Native Americans are unconcerned about sports teams named for their tribes or their culture. (The notable exception is the Redskins, which is undeniably a racial slur.) They don't care about names like the Braves or the Indians or the Chiefs, and will tell you the complaints are coming from the mouthy gadflies who infest any culture.
Some of these gadflies are on an intramural basketball team at the University of Northern Colorado. Although their official team name is "Native Pride" they are now calling themselves "The Fighting Whities." Their logo is a fifties style drawing of a neatly groomed white guy in a suit and tie, and their slogan is "Every thang's gonna be all white." They figured that white people would get upset, then realize how horrible it was for them to use Indian team names and mascots.
They figured wrong. Instead of getting offended it seems most white people think it's a hoot! On Free Republic, a conservative web site, the response has been laughter and an insistence that there's nothing wrong with the name, and therefore, nothing wrong with Indian names either. White people were supposed to get mad about it, dammit, not think it was amusing!
Orders for their T-shirts are coming in faster than they can fill them. They've solved the problem by signing up with Cafe Press, a place that will quickly print up a shirt with whatever logo you like, in quantities as low as one, but they've added the slogan "Fighting the use of Native American Stereotypes" and changed the original name to "The Fighting Whites." The politically correct are now censoring themselves.
Many years ago, on a business trip, I was drinking at a nearly empty hotel bar somewhere in the west. The bartender was a Native American. We were talking politics, and I inadvertently used the term "Indian." He stiffened a bit and said "We don't like that term."
I didn't want to offend him for several reasons, not the least of which was that he was pouring my beer. "I'm sorry. Native Americans."
"I don't like that term either," he said rather coldly.
"OK, I usually call people whatever they prefer, so what term should I use?"
"Shoshone. I'm Shoshone, and that's what I like to be called."
I thought it was rather unreasonable to be expected to recognize everyone by their specific tribe, but didn't want to annoy him. I suggested, "Since there's no way I can differentiate everyone from every tribe, how about we call each other Comanches."
"Comanches!" Now he was getting upset, upset enough to use the forbidden word: "But you're not an Indian!"
"I was thinking more of the English translation of the word, what the Comanches call themselves."
It took him a few seconds, but then the light went on. "Ah," he said, "Human Beings."
"Exactly! Let's call each other that." He smiled and drew me another beer.
The official site of the Fighting Whites
Buy the sanitized T-shirt
Another Article on the subject.
© 2001 Dave Hitt