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OPEN LETTER OPPOSING HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION 10

I write to ask you to accede to the entreaties of many Native Peoples—your neighbors and constituents in Utah—that you do the following: 1) oppose any movement toward passage of House Joint Resolution 10; and, 2) vote “No” on enactment of House Joint Resolution 10.

HJR 10 endorses promotion of invidious discrimination against Native Peoples through stereotypical depictions of “Indian” skin color, facial features and other purported identifiers.  Sponsor Shipp distorts the facts when he claims that Native Peoples want to be portrayed as sports mascots, names and false identities. While promoting these fictional caricatures, he ignores actual Native Peoples who are saying that it is no honor to be dehumanized and objectified, and that mascoting is injurious to Native rights to self-determine, define and assert cultures, histories and identities. The State of Utah cannot be the arbiter of Native identity and should not even want to take another step in the direction of burdening Native Peoples with false personae and attributes.

I am honored to add my voice in opposition to HJR 10 to those of Chairwoman Tamra Borchardt-Slayton of the Paiute Tribe, Council Delegate Nathaniel Brown of the Navajo Nation, Chairman Darren B. Parry of the Northwest Band of Shoshone Nation, the Utah Din’e Bikeyah and all who gathered at the recent #WeAreNotMascots rally hosted by the Utah League of Native American Voters. I am Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, and I’ve been a part of the no-mascots movement since 1962 in Oklahoma, where I experienced first hand the ill effects of such manifestation of anti-Native racism as “Little Red,” the dancing mascot retired by the University of Oklahoma in 1970, making it the first so-called Indian mascot eliminated in American sports. Since then, we collectively—tens of thousands of Native Peoples and allies—have eliminated over two-thirds (2,000+) of the sports stereotypes, one school, one team, one district and one state at a time. We have done this on a wing and a prayer and, while many of us have gone broke doing this social justice work, we remain dedicated to helping consign the remaining one-third to the sorry history that spawned them. 

HJR 10 cites an entity, which is well-funded by opponents of our movement, that claims to represent the “silent majority of Native American” approval for the use of Native American symbols, languages and names for mascots. Those listed above in Utah have not given such approval and have not consented to HJR 10. As you may know from this week’s news reports, the largest scientific study of the relationship between Native American identity and attitudes toward so-called Native mascots has been peer reviewed and is about to be published.  The findings in this important study could not be used to support the claims in HJR 10, but the Native Peoples at the recent rally in Utah could use the findings to support their positions.       

HJR 10 purports to fill a need for public engagement by constituents impacted by the 3-2 vote of the local school board in Cedar City, Utah, against the use of “Redman” as its school mascot.  The vote occurred after a public engagement process and those most affected by and opposed to the race-based mascot prevailed.  Native constituents were discounted and mischaracterized in HJR 10, which was introduced for and responded to only those constituents who lost the school board vote.   

Thank you for letting HJR 10 die and for reaching out to Native Peoples to learn what the priority issues are and how you might work together toward honorable solutions.

Aho!  Mvto!

Suzan Shown Harjo

611 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Washington, DC 20003  (202) 547-5531