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A report from the Center for American Progress released Tuesday calls on state and federal boards of education to enforce civil rights protections for American Indian and Alaska Native students who face hostile education environments related to Indian mascots.
"The debate we've been seeing around these mascots is really missing the point," report co-author Erik Stegman told USA TODAY Sports. "There are real impacts that we see in Native youth around the country. They have lower self-esteem because of these mascots. And they have the worst education outcomes in the nation. It all points to the need to retire these mascots across the board, at K through 12 and post-secondary schools and in professional leagues."
The report recommends:
The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights should use its full authority to enforce civil rights protections for Native students and promote a safe and welcoming learning environment.
State-level boards of education should identify schools in their states with Native mascots and examine their impact.
Non-profit legal assistance organizations and law school clinics should develop programs for Native students who want to file complaints.
The federal government and foundations should fund new research on the impact of Indian mascots.
"We make the case in the report that young Native people in too many cases grow up with these team names in their communities and then they have to deal with them for the rest of their lives on the pro level," Stegman said. "These names lead to a basic misunderstanding by non-Native people of tribal people across the country, and until we actually get rid of all of these, as the American Psychological Association recommended almost a decade ago, we are never going to change that."
Clinical psychologist Michael Friedman, who spoke at a panel discussion in conjunction with the report's release, said he thinks there is a link between high rates of suicide in Native youth and self-esteem issues connected to Indian mascots and team names.
"We know that depression and substance abuse are two major risk factors in suicide," Friedman told USA TODAY Sports. "These mascots can result in bullying and harassment in schools. We know for a fact that no other group of people has to deal with this, so we know that is unequal treatment. We have several studies that show discrimination of this kind -- harassment, bullying, unequal treatment -- predicts depression and substance abuse and is associated with, in correlative fashion, increased levels of suicidal behavior in Native Americans."
The report, entitled "Missing the Point: The Real Impact of Mascots and Team Names on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth," says overemphasis on the campaign to change the name of the Washington NFL club shortchanges Native students who are suffering today: "There are many things that can be done right now to support (Native) students in schools that perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Instead of debating merchandise economics and fan sentimentality, it is time to get to the point in this debate and to stop the harm that racist mascots and team names do to (Native) youth."