MU diversity groups bring Native American issues to foreground

The week's events focused on Native American imagery in sports.
Cornel Pewewardy presents his American Indian imagery in sports lecture Thursday night in Jesse Wrench Auditorium. The lecture followed the Tuesday night showing of the documentary, 'In Whose Honor?'

A series of events this week coordinated by the Multicultural Center, Diversity Peer Educators and Four Front Minority Presidents Council examined the issue of Native American mascots and imagery in both college and professional sports.

On Tuesday, the groups screened the documentary "In Whose Honor?" to a modest sized crowd at Memorial Union. The film focused on the story of Charlene Teters, who began her fight against Native American mascots in sports during her time as a graduate student at the University of Illinois. Since then, the movement against Native American mascots has grown exponentially, as has Teters' role as a leader of the movement.

"The film is a good example of an American Indian coming into a majority population and dealing with latent racist issues," said Pablo Mendoza, Student Life assistant director and Multicultural Center director. "It ties in not only with the mascot issue, but with the poor representation of American Indians in our society."

Cornel Pewewardy, professor of Native American studies at Portland State University, presented some of his research on the effects of Native American sports images on Native American populations Thursday. The National Indian Education Association named Pewewardy the 2009 Teacher of the Year. In his lecture, Pewewardy discussed the negative effects of stereotypical Native American imagery in both sports and society on the self-esteem of Native American people.

He recalled an instance from his time as an elementary educator in a predominantly Native American area when he took some of his students on a trip to an NFL game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins. While walking his students through the parking lot, the war-chanting and tomahawk chopping of Redskins fans in full "Indian garb" brought some of his students to tears.

"If you see babies cry and you know why they're crying, you do something about it," Pewewardy said.

Both the documentary and Pewewardy's lecture brought in audience members of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. One Native American transfer student in attendance, junior Dana Gaydusek, came in an effort to find a way to connect with other Native American students at MU.

"I haven't met anybody here that I can relate to when it comes to my culture," Gaydusek said. "I come from a very Indian neighborhood with a huge family and then I come here and I'm so alone."

Four Front Co-chairwoman Yantézia Patrick said it has been several years since there has been an active Native American student group on campus at MU.

"We don't have an American Indian active group on campus, but we still feel the need to keep the message alive," Patrick said.

Similarly, Mendoza said the Multicultural Center makes a concerted effort to bring in speakers and put on programs about Native American issues despite the lack of an active Native American group. He also expressed hope Gaydusek would make an effort to bring the American Indian voice back to MU.

"I hope that she steps up and gets the organization revived," Mendoza said.

Pewewardy said in many cases, a Native American presence is hard to come by in settings of higher education.

"As I progressed farther in my education, I saw fewer and fewer people who looked like me," Pewewardy said.

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