Native American images as sports team mascots: From Chief Wahoo to Chief Illiniwek

Michael Taylor
Dept. of Anthropology, Syracuse University
July, 2005


Identity can be constructed within two modes: one that is of an ascribed status that is provided for by the macro system, the other is one that is selected and chosen by the micro interest to represent itself. The tensions related in the following paper have the contention of identity, and the power to create such definitions, are examined through the use of racialized sports team mascots that represent Native American peoples and cultures for display. Through on-site interviews and archival research, a framework in which to evaluate the level of desire attached to such representations is examined among Native and non-Native interests. Localized case studies provide for a particular perspective in the debate while forming the foundation for a national discourse around the issue of representation. The sites revealed a culture of nostalgia that envelops the representations of things Indian and perpetuates itself through repetition over time for some interests. The localized interests are frequently in conflict with each other and often a larger interest intervenes, making a decision for those interests that are at odds in the discourse.