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Larry Jent on Mascots

Your "Another Nickname That Has To Go" column touched a nerve for me. If you were serious about abolishing the Tar Heels, then count me in as one of your greatest supporters. After 20 years as a Duke grad, I am ready to vote for a constitutional ammendment banning baby blue.

If you meant to lampoon the NCAA decision banning Native American mascots from postseason play, then I beg to differ. As a Native American and a Dukie, I would encourage you to spend some time discussing this matter with Native people before treating it as something insignificant or trivial.

Why does this matter? First, because all people want the right to name themselves. The University of Notre Dame was established by Catholics--and many of them were Irish. They have a right to name themselves however they choose. In America, Native people have not been accorded that same right. The word "Cherokee," for example, has been used to market everything from SUVs to clothing. The Cherokee people have never benefited from this in any way. No one had to ask their permission to use their name or image to market their products. Can you imagine how fast the legal clamps would come down if someone tried to do the same with an unsanctioned line of Duke University clothing? Duke, you see, has a right to its own name. Native people want the same right.

But why should we be so touchy when there is no blatant attempt to dishonor us with those mascots? Because those images--insulting or not--all have one thing in common: they portray us as objects of history. I spend a lot of volunteer time speaking to children. I usually ask them what they know about Indians. Without fail, they all agree that Indians are people who lived long ago. Native people are still not conceived to be an important part of the fabric of America, but living fossils.

Does that matter? Go sit down in a group of Native people and ask them. You may find a few who view a mascot as free advertising for the tourist trade (as is the case with the Seminoles and Utes). You may find a few people on the street who claim to be "part Indian." But I urge you to go deeper.

Drive up I-95 for a couple of hours to Richmond. Here in Virginia, Native people were forbidden to attend public schools until the late 60s. The state branded us an "impure mongrel race," unfit for state sanctioned education. Families were torn apart as children were sent to boarding schools in Oklahoma or Michigan--the nearest states that would accept Indian children in school. I will introduce you to these proud sons and daughters of Powhatan. You can look them in their eyes and ask if it really matters that they have no right to their own image.

I honestly believe that if you look us in the eye, you will know the answer.