Point and Counter Point: The spear should be re-evaluated

This article is part of our Point and Counter Point feature. It was published along with the article “Warriors should stick with their spear.”

Photo by Liz Montilla Students painted this image in collaboration with members of the Ho Chunk people
Photo by Liz Montilla
Students painted this image in collaboration with members of the Ho Chunk people

Since the 1960s, there have been a wealth of protests by Native American action groups aimed towards combating racial insensitivity and ethnic stereotyping specifically, the insensitivity exhibited by U.S. sports teams across the country.
Team names like the Washington Redskins (“redskin” being a term traditionally defined as a derogatory name for a Native American) and the Cleveland Indians (whose “Chief Wahoo” mascot has caused outrage as a harmful stereotype) have been a fixture in American athletics for years, but not without conflict. Native Americans have vocally objected to this type of cultural appropriation for years, but their feelings have largely been ignored, even scoffed at, by people who believe that their right to athletic tradition is more important than native peoples’ right to feel respected, valued and welcome in their country. Even small-scale teams below the national leagues have drawn attention for their questionable mascot choices. On any level, a team that, in the view of many activists, causes harm to a community of people deserves to be addressed.
Why, then, should our school be exempt?
It appears that the district has been phasing our traditional “spear” out of Waunakee apparel, and some object to this on the grounds that tradition should not be sacrificed for something they view as being petty or unimportant. While high school mascots may seem inconsequential, every student who comes through Waunakee High School will at some point see the painting of the American Indian hanging in the old gym, as well as the feathered spear plastered on all our apparel. It would be naive to assume that students would leave here unaffected by them; while students are certainly capable of thinking for themselves, Native activists would argue that the implications of such a mascot may be internalized in the people who support it and contribute to a system of stereotyping that oppresses indigenous people.
The name “Warrior” is a broad term, a name for a brave fighter that does not subscribe to one culture, and thus makes a great representative for Waunakee athletic teams. But the painting of the American Indian chief in the old gym, and the feathered spear by the association, is certainly questionable.
Furthermore, the idea that mascots like these “honor” the Native American people is, frankly, a cheap excuse for staying rooted in archaic belief systems. Even if the mascots were intended to represent traditional values like bravery, dedication and pride, many critics argue that these only contribute to the stereotype of American Indians being “savages.” Truly, it is not the place of non-indigenous people to determine what “honors” Native Americans. They are perfectly capable of honoring themselves, and explaining to others what is an acceptable form of tribute.
When an issue of possible cultural insensitivity like this arises, people argue that the team mascots are harmless, and that indigenous people should not be offended.
The warrior in the old gym was painted in conjunction with representatives from the Ho Chunk tribe in the late 1980s. Many would argue that their approval eradicates any doubt about the respectfulness of the warrior mascot, but times have changed, new information has been brought to light, and approval given more than 20 years ago should not be considered a permanent endorsement.
In order to ensure that we are doing the best we can in service of our community and our national sense of equality and opportunity, we need to ask again. We need to ask the Native Americans of our community to share their feelings on the subject, and we need to really listen to their answers. If there is any doubt regarding the sensitivity of this mascot, if there is any chance our team needlessly offends others or hurts the people we claim to support, it is not worth having.
When it comes to the warrior spear, we need to step outside ourselves. We must look at it from the perspective of someone who didn’t grow up rooting for it, who has felt stereotyped and marginalized their entire life, for whom every additional racially-charged slight opens an old wound, and ask ourselves if athletic tradition is worth it.