DENVER (CBS4) - After decades of criticism and resistance, the Washington Redskins NFL team is considering changing its name. But the use of Native American mascots is not limited to professional sports. There are many high schools in Colorado that use them.
Cheryl Crazy Bull is the President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, which is based in Denver. The nonprofit is calling on teams like the Redskins to rename their mascots. She says their use has a negative impact on American Indian youth.
"Research that involves sharing mascot imagery and names with Native American youth have shown it has a very negative impact on their self-image and self-esteem," says Crazy Bull. "Because Native youth are so vulnerable already to the kind of issues that are faced in their communities, it does a lot of harm to their self-confidence and their identity."
The Centers for Disease Control shows that American Indian and Alaskan Natives ages 15-34 have the highest suicide rates in the country.
"There's a lot of need to ensure that young people see themselves clearly, because their identity is formed by what they see in our society, in their families, and in their communities," said Crazy Bull.
In 2015, the state formed the Governor's Commission to Study American Indian Representation in Public Schools. Then in 2016, the commission encouraged schools to work with tribes toward a more authentic representation. Cheryl Crazy Bull says she does not believe the use of any Native American imagery is helpful in our schools.
"There are plenty of other symbols and names that could be used by high schools," says Crazy Bull. "What I'd like to see is representation that's accurate in the curriculum, inclusion of Indigenous peoples in positions of power and authority, and the opportunity to have our voices heard. I think that's better representation than trying to accurately represent Native people through a mascot or name."
"I think whenever we can incorporate good curriculum and accurate images then we do a lot to promote the self-esteem of young people and a lot to ensure they have better lives."
A recent Gallup survey of tribal college and university alumni shows that students who attend culturally-based higher education institutions on or near reservations perform better because they are surrounded by role models, and learn in an environment that includes their cultures. The American Indian College Fund is dedicated to helping students get a higher education degree.
"We build their capacity to have a successful college experience so they can have more success and prosperity in their own lives," said Crazy Bull.
For more information on the American Indian College Fund, including on how to donate, visit collegefund.org.
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