Native American Mascots: “Not Just A Race Problem, It’s a Human Problem”

Tribal members continue push to retire "Redmen" mascot for good

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Native American mascots have been a source of controversy nationwide.

It’s a debate that’s been stirring up one community in Northeast South Dakota for three decades.

Tribal members on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation gathered Saturday to discuss what they call a “racist and dehumanizing” mascot.

To some, it’s a symbol of strength and power. But for tribal members on the Lake Traverse Indian reservation in Sisseton, the Sisseton “Redmen” mascot is disrespectful.

That’s why they’re pushing to retire the mascot for good.

“It’s really important that we look at this as not just a race problem, but as a human problem,” said Simon Moya-Smith, Writer and Citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation.

Simon Moya-Smith, a writer and citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, says Native American kids are two and a half times more likely to commit suicide than teens of any other race.

He says the “Redmen” representation of Native American culture is contributing to mental health issues among kids.

“What matters is their health and their stability,” said Moya-Smith. “We want to make sure they’re in environments where they’re not racially discriminated because the mascot is a “Redmen,” “Savage,” or “Redskin.””

For 19-year-old Kinew Desrosiers, the “Redmen” mascot came with discrimination at Sisseton High School.

“You get in the school and you’re surrounded by the white community and you’re native,” said Desrosiers. “Before you get in there, you feel belittled already.”

Desrosiers says non-native students weren’t the only ones who treated her differently. She says faculty and staff did as well.

And after her junior year, Desrosiers decided enough was enough.

“I couldn’t sit through the coronation anymore or go to any school events because they’re all about the “Redmen,”” said Desrosiers. “And that wasn’t honoring me in any way.”

Desrosiers says leaving Sisseton High School and transferring to tribal school Tiospa Zina because of the “Redmen” mascot, is a decision she didn’t have to do alone.

“A lot of native kids are opening up their eyes to what the real issue is here,” said Desrosiers. “And they see it and they feel it themselves so they say, “You know what, I want this change. I need this change for myself.””

Sisseton residents, who didn’t want to be on camera, told KDLT News that the school district shouldn’t retire the “Redmen” mascot. Some say it’s a name that represents strength and power and tribal members should be proud of that.