Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
Return Home

Reading Room

Exercises and Demonstrations
Multimedia Center
Teacher's Corner
Directory of Experts
Links on Prejudice
About Us
Privacy Policy
Contact Us

Teacher's Corner
College Classroom Activities

Native People as Mascots: In Whose Honor?


To increase awareness of prejudice toward Native people, and more generally, to examine the psychology of contemporary racism.


Rent, buy, or borrow a copy of the award-winning documentary In Whose Honor? American Indian Mascots in Sports. The documentary is available on VHS videotape from New Day Films.


In the 1990s Native Americans protested the use of the University of Illinois team mascot, Chief Illiniwek, on the grounds that it was a degrading and distorted representation of sacred Native American symbols. The university board of trustees and many alumni countered that Chief Illinwek honored Native Americans and was not offensive. In Whose Honor? interviews people on all sides of the debate and uses the controversy to tell a larger story about the power of language, symbols, and images; about the forms that modern-day racism can take; and about the appropriation, colonization, and trivialization of Native culture and spiritual traditions.


Show In Whose Honor? (runtime: 46 minutes) and follow it with a class discussion that includes these questions:

  • When the trustees and fans say that the portrayal of Chief Illiniwek is honorable, do you think they're sincere?

  • Who do you think should have the final say on whether something is prejudiced? Should it come down to whatever the target group thinks, so that people of color have the final say with respect to racism, women have the final say with sexism, and so forth?

  • Can you imagine any other religious or spiritual figure being used at a half time event? If a rabbi or a priest wouldn't be acceptable, why is an Indian chief or a medicine man okay?

  • Why do you think caricatures such as Little Black Sambo and the Frito Bandito were banished long ago while the Cleveland Indian logo remains?

  • At one point in the film, there's a poster with four pennants (the Pittsburgh Negroes, Kansas City Jews, San Diego Caucasians, and Cleveland Indians), with the line "Maybe now you know how Native Americans feel." Is there a double standard when it comes to Indian mascots, and if so, why does it exist?

  • Do you notice Indian names and stereotypes, or have you become deadened to them? For instance, when you see a TV commercial or magazine advertisement for Jeep Grand Cherokee, do you make the connection that Cherokee is the name of an Indian nation?

  • If you don't notice the use of a racial stereotype, is that a form of racism?

  • Is there a difference between calling a team the "Redskins" and calling them the "Niggers," "Wops," "Kikes," or "Honkies"?

  • Is the use of Indian mascots in schools a form of legalized discrimination against a minority group?

  • Why do you think it's so important to Illinois fans, alumni, and trustees to retain Chief Illiiwek as their mascot?