Stories - IllumiNative

Offensive to Native Americans, Racist Mascots Have No Place In Sports

New Scientific Study Reaffirms that Native Peoples Are Deeply Insulted by the Washington Football Team’s Name. A United Coalition of Native American Leaders, Activists, Scientists and Organizations Release the Following Joint Statement.

This week in Washington, DC, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Fawn Sharp delivered a State of Indian Nations speech to Members of Congress, Tribal Leaders and citizens, and the American public. In brief, President Sharp’s speech outlined the goals of tribal leaders; the successes and challenges experienced over the last year; and NCAI’s vision for the advancement of Native peoples moving forward, covering a range of issues from lack of federal funding for tribal programs to concerns about voter suppression and climate change. Additionally, her speech touched upon the ways in which racist mascots degrade and offend Native American Nations and citizens.

Today, we stand united to end the use of offensive and racist Native mascots, behaviors and caricatures in sports.

Today, leaders, activists and organizations from Indian Country gathered together to once again declare that the name of the Washington football team must change. They reaffirm their commitment to this goal based on a new, in-depth and profound scientific study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Michigan.

For too long, Native leaders have been silenced by the use of opinion polls conducted by organizations and individuals who do not understand Native communities. Moreover, these polls have refused to release methodological details and data files, which leaves open the question, who are the Native people in these studies? Despite these questionable practices, the public opinion polls have been used to legitimize the Washington football team name and cast doubt on the Native American community’s efforts to change it.

This new study debunks previous “polls” and gives us the scientific, evidence-based data to apply increased pressure: we will not be silenced by unsympathetic media or anyone else. Race-based sports mascots, derision of our cultural symbols and vulgar behavior by sports fans must stop.

“The continued use of degrading mascots and the perpetuation of a single opinion poll intended to speak on behalf of Native Americans demonstrates a deep lack of respect for Native peoples and nations. Our tribe has a long history in the fight for equity for Native people, both nationally and at home in Minnesota. Last October, we came together with other tribes and partner organizations to protest the Washington NFL football team name and mascot,” said Keith Anderson, Chairman, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. “We support IllumiNative and the groundbreaking scientific research that shines an important light on how many Native Americans feel. It is our hope that this will move us forward in correcting the narrative.”

“This new research is critical to understanding what actual Native peoples think about sports mascoting and how we are harmed when our identities and cultures are exploited by the NFL and other profiteers. Momentum is turning in our direction, as evidenced by this study, by Maine and other states that have ended their sports slurs, by art and literature on the subject, including our new play, Reclaiming One Star, at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. We and myriad allies have eliminated 2,000+ school mascots and one pro baseball symbol since 1970, when the University of Oklahoma was first to retire its objectionable mascot, Little Red. Over two-thirds of “Native” mascots have been consigned to history books because educators, journalists, politicians and social justice leaders listened and learned about how mascots hurt our children. The time has come for the NFL to stop mocking, start listening and end this public bigotry,” said Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee) has been in the no-mascots movement since 1962. A writer, curator and policy advocate, she is a 2014 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.

“Almost every single poll that has been gathered by non-Natives has been deemed unreliable and recklessly gathered. From the 2004 Annenberg Poll to the 2016 Washington Post Poll, the results have been extremely detrimental in how the mascot issue has been handled by the larger society and how Native people have been treated thereafter. The new scientific study clearly shows that although our opinions may differ, Native people continue to be adversely affected by Native mascots,” said Amanda Blackhorse (Diné from the Navajo Nation) Social Worker and Indigenous Identity Advocate. “This finding supports the larger movement to dispel Native mascots, supported by solid academic research. Native people must protect the health and well-being of those who are impacted by Native mascots. This is a health issue, not a sports issue.”

“The data simply does not add up. The psychological evidence reveals that mascots are harmful to Native people and children, that they lead non-Natives to stereotype and discriminate against Natives, and, as our recent research reveals, offend Native people who engage in Native cultural practices and are highly identified with being Native. Yet, widely cited opinion polls would have Americans believe that Native people cannot see the negative psychological effects or recognize the discriminatory nature of these mascots. And, worse, yet that Natives People are not offended by being called a racial slur. This does not make sense. If you look beyond simple opinion polls, the evidence is clear: There is no acceptable reason or excuse for continuing to use Native people as mascots,” said Stephanie Fryberg (Tulalip Tribes), Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan.

“Given the psychological literature and the strong stand that tribal leaders take, it is time to stop using Native Americans as mascots. Our study demonstrates that people who identify most with being Native American, such as tribal leaders and their constituents, are the ones most likely to be offended by the clearly denigrating and stereotypical team mascots and by the behaviors that accompany the use of Native mascots,” Arianne Eason, Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley. “These are also the people most likely to experience negative impacts of the us of Native mascots. Regardless of what sports fans claim, the outcomes are clear, Native mascots harm and offend Native people, especially highly identified Native people.”

“IllumiNative was founded on research that revealed how invisibility, false narratives and toxic stereotypes fuel bias, discrimination and racism against Native Americans. The systemic erasure of Native Peoples from modern society has led to the fact that 78% of Americans know little to nothing about Native Americans, 72% rarely encounter information about Native Peoples and 66% of Americans don’t think Native Peoples face discrimination,” Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), Executive Director, IlumiNative. “The limited exposure Americans have to Native peoples is rife with harmful stereotypes and representations that includes those perpetuated by Native American sports mascots, team names and racist fan traditions that are still celebrated within the NFL, MLB as well as college and K-12 sports.”

Call to Action:

We humbly ask the American public to stand with us in advocating for the change of the Washington football team name to help make it clear to all people everywhere that the use of racist Native mascot names – including the Washington football team name – must end.

Background on the Scientific Study

On Tuesday, Feb. 4th, a new groundbreaking, peer-reviewed scientific study was released; it surveyed more than 1,000 Native Americans about their feelings towards mascots, fan behavior and the Washington Football team. The first of its kind, this study adds a significant measurable factor as it looks deeply at the complexity of identity and shows the impact of mascots to those deeply tied to their identity and community. Called Unpacking the Mascot Debate: Native American Identification Predicts Opposition to Native Mascots, the study was conducted by Dr. Stephanie Fryberg (Tulalip Tribes), from the University of Michigan, and Dr. Arianne Eason of the University of California, Berkeley, along with their research team. The study builds on a body of research created by Unpacking the Mascot Debate lead researcher Dr. Stephanie Fryberg whose work in-part helped to inform the 2005 American Psychological Association Resolution recommending the retirement of American Indian Mascots.

About IllumiNative:

IllumiNative, is a Native-led nonprofit, launched to increase the visibility of Native peoples in American society by changing the national narrative. IllumiNative challenges negative narratives, stories, and stereotypes about Native peoples. We provide tools for Native advocates and allies including youth, community and tribal leaders, activists, and professionals across critical sectors — to develop and advocate for accurate and contemporary representations and voices of Native peoples.

Available for Interviews:

  • Crystal Echo Hawk, Executive Director, IllumiNative
  • Suzan Shown Harjo, Recipient, 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • Stephanie Fryberg, University of Michigan
  • Arianne Eason, University of California Berkeley

Press Contacts:

Coalition members include Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Chairman Keith Anderson; Suzan Shown Harjo, Recipient, 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom; Amanda Blackhorse, (Diné from the Navajo Nation) Social Worker and Indigenous Identity Advocate; IllumiNative; and Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, Univ. of Michigan.

IllumiNative Announces New Funding for Native American Education for All

IllumiNative, a national Native-led nonprofit organization, in partnership with Wend Collective, announced a new grant program today that will equip Native-led organizations with the resources and tools needed to advance Native Education for All policies in their state. Grants will support coalition building, community organizing and planning efforts for a minimum of three states in 2020 with maximum awards of $160,000.

Of the program, Crystal Echo Hawk, Founder and Executive Director of IllumiNative said;

“Native Americans are a vibrant and growing population with rich, distinct cultures in the United States. However, our country’s K-12 public education system often fails to teach accurate history about Native peoples or about our contemporary contributions and issues in society. Americans today are being taught an inaccurate history of this country and importance of Tribal Nations and peoples to the fabric of American society continues to be erased. This invisibility and the false narratives and toxic stereotypes often perpetuated in K-12 classrooms creates hostile learning environments for Native students and fuels bias and discrimination against Native peoples.

By launching the Native Education for All grant program, we are saying that Native peoples are invisible no more and that education about Native peoples, past and present, is good for all students. IllumiNative is excited to build partnerships with tribes and Native-led organizations and to invest in their work to build their capacity, local and statewide organizing and coalition building that can create education policy change in their state.”

The program has been informed by two pieces of research that examined the issue of invisibility and provided a path forward. According to Reclaiming Native Truth, a public opinion research project co-led by IllumiNative’s founder Crystal Echo Hawk, 72% of Americans polled support significant changes to K-12 curricula, and 78% of Americans want to know more about Native peoples. A new report, published last year by the National Congress of American Indians, Becoming Visible: A Landscape Analysis of State Efforts to Provide Education about American Indians and Alaska Natives, also identified a growing movement and momentum of states moving towards the change that is necessary and long overdue in K-12 education.

The grant awards will go towards building capacity for Native-led organizations to set a firm foundation for passing Native Education for All advocacy in the future, no policy changes are expected during the year-long grant. Organizations will be provided technical assistance and training tailored to fit their needs.

Interested parties should submit a Letter of Interest by March 31, 2020. After a review process, IllumiNative will invite finalist applicants to submit a full proposal in Spring 2020. Grants will be awarded Summer 2020.  An informational webinar is scheduled for Tuesday, March 3rd at 12:00pm EST. To register, please click here.

For more information, please go to or contact Leah Salgado at

About IllumiNative
IllumiNative,is a Native-led nonprofit, launched to increase the visibility of Native peoples in American society by changing the national narrative. IllumiNative challenges negative narratives, stories, and stereotypes about Native peoples. We provide tools for Native advocates and allies including youth, community and tribal leaders, activists, and professionals across critical sectors — to develop and advocate for accurate and contemporary representations and voices of Native peoples.


Trump’s Effort to Rebrand Native American Heritage Month Does Not and Will Not Deter Indigenous Movements

(This Opinion/Editorial was originally published by Indian Country Today on Thursday, November 7, 2019. See the original piece here.)

Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), Founder and CEO, IllumiNative
Nick Tilsen (Oglala Lakota), President and CEO, NDN Collective

For nearly three decades, the month of November has been recognized as Native American Heritage Month. Bi-partisan support through Presidential Proclamations and law formally recognized and honored the contributions of Native and Indigenous peoples throughout the month. This year, however, the 45th President of the United States attempted to rebrand the month entirely, prioritizing an inaugural proclamation of November as “National American History and Founders Month.” While it is not certain why this decision was made, recent reporting on this inaugural proclamation found it to be a priority of prominent Republican donors. The White House retroactively published a proclamation about Native American History Month on November 5th, but the message was heard loud and clear throughout Indian Country:  This administration is trying to erase us.

In an era of alarming displays of support and sympathy for white nationalism coded as patriotism, we recognize that the decision to prioritize the celebration of “founders” by the President, with a purposeful exclusion of Native communities, is a direct effort to diminish both tribal sovereignty and growing social movements for justice, equity, and inclusion. This action was an attempt to further diminish Indigenous Peoples in our own land and an attempt to erase us from discussions about this country’s origins.

While the highest levels of government have and continue to be both active and complicit in the attempted erasure of our people, they are not alone. Erasure is institutionalized by other sectors in society, including the K-12 public education system, pop culture, and the media. Formally recognized holidays and proclamations like Native American Heritage Month are key to addressing this erasure, and correcting historical and institutionalized narratives that have privileged white colonial history while purposely excluding the history of those who have been most disenfranchised: Indigenous, Black, and other people of color.

It is no surprise to Native people that a president who uses Native-specific racial slurs to talk about his political opponents, supports the expansion of pipelines through tribal lands despite opposition by tribal leaders, and hijacks celebrations of Native veterans, has disrespected us yet again. There has been a consistent pattern of disregard for the strength and well-being of Native communities, most prominently shown through proposed cuts to funding, and even elimination of Native education programs.

To be sure, Indian Country has long-standing allies from both sides of the aisle who have worked side-by-side with tribal communities to right some wrongs perpetrated by the government. Both Republican and Democratic elected officials have introduced legislation that supports Native communities, advocated for full funding of Indian education and health services, held agencies accountable to their missions of serving Native communities, and worked with elected officials to ensure they consult with tribal leaders. Support for Tribal Nations and Native people can and should be a collective effort of all those in government, regardless of political affiliation.

The acknowledgement and celebration of Native American Heritage Month is an opportunity for America to reckon with its past, to heal long-standing historical wounds, to build national self-awareness, and fully realize what it means to be a nation built on justice and equity for all people. This should be a priority to those in the highest levels of leadership.

Despite this latest slight to Indian Country by this Administration, Native and Indigenous movements for justice and visibility are mobilizing in unprecedented ways. Looking back to the month of October, wherein dozens of Indigenous Peoples’ Day declarations were made on local and state levels, we recognize the growing power of Indigenous organizing for visibility and self-determination. Together, we are boldly asserting ourselves. We are reclaiming our narratives, restoring the visibility of our Nations, our histories, and our accomplishments.

IllumiNative was founded to combat the erasure of Native peoples, to change the narrative, and illuminate what it means to be Native American in today’s contemporary society. We celebrate Native peoples this month and every month by amplifying Native artists, Native issues, voices for change,  and by providing significant, sound research to build the foundation of truth for all Native peoples in this country.

Similarly, the NDN Collective was founded to build the collective power of Indigenous people through movement-building, decolonization and self-determination. Asserting ourselves as the original inhabitants of this land is not just critical for our own collective wellbeing, healing and self-determination as Indigenous people, but it’s part of a much broader movement for justice and equity for all people and the planet. We recognize that as human beings upon one shared Earth, we are bound by natural laws of interdependence. Therefore, we must take every opportunity to stand up to inequality and create equitable solutions.

As organizations, we share a commitment to fighting erasure. As Native people, we understand how critical this fight is to our future. Indigenous Peoples are an essential part of the historical and cultural fabric that makes up this nation. We remain and persevere as active participants of the present, and we will continue to be co-creators of the future. On a global scale, the perspectives and experiences of Indigenous Peoples and Nations are also essential to solving the most pressing problems facing this country and the world. Indigenous communities are leading the fight to end climate change and ensuring access to clean water and air.  It is imperative that we build a future and country that is grounded in truth, solidarity, justice and equity. A country that works for and includes all. A country where Indigenous Peoples, as the original people of this land, are valued, respected and recognized.

Some may call the celebration of Native American Heritage Month merely a symbolic gesture. But symbols and the movements behind them matter.  Accurate representation and the movement for narrative change are catalysts for change. This is why we will continue fighting for visibility and the restoration of celebrations like this one. This month, we will continue to honor and recognize the countless displays of Native and Indigenous magnificence and celebrate over 600 years of resilience. We will continue to build within our communities, lift up our stories, and work with allies to reshape an American narrative that truly honors the first people of this land. Together, we can create a vibrant future for this country that exemplifies the best in all of us and defeats the hate that threatens to surround us today.

For Native American Heritage Month, we invite Indian Country and our allies to join us as we remind America that Native American history is American history. To participate in our campaign, download this image, take a selfie holding up the message, and post your photo using the hashtag #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth. 

About IllumiNative

IllumiNative is a Native-led nonprofit, launched to increase the visibility of Native peoples in American society by changing the national narrative. IllumiNative challenges negative narratives, stories, and stereotypes about Native peoples. We provide tools for Native advocates and allies including youth, community and tribal leaders, activists, and professionals across critical sectors — to develop and advocate for accurate and contemporary representations and voices of Native peoples.

About NDN Collective

NDN Collective is a national organization dedicated to building the collective power of Indigenous Peoples, communities, and Nations to exercise our inherent right to self-determination. Through a holistic approach to infrastructure, funding, advocacy, movement building, and philanthropy we are fostering a world of justice and equity for all people and the planet.

Comedy Think Tank

Comedy Improv Night A Youth WorkshopIllumiNative in partnership with CMSI (Center for Media & Social Impact) hosted a Comedy Think Tank that included ten exceptional Native and Non-Native professional comedians, thought leaders, and change makers.

Report Offers “Road Map” for Native Americans to Shed Stereotypes

HELENA, Mont. – A new report explores how Native Americans are perceived in the United States, and according to one of its project leaders, it’s the largest public-opinion research project about Native Americans ever conducted.

Crystal Echo Hawk said the goal of the report “Reclaiming Native Truth” was to find out about the dominant narratives and perceptions of native people from a diverse group of Americans. It included focus groups spanning 11 states and every race. She said toxic and contradictory stereotypes about Native Americans persist, such as ideas that they’re dependent on the government, but also flush with casino money.

Research reveals media role in stereotypes about Native Americans

This month, a team of Native researchers and thought leaders, organized under the project Reclaiming Native Truth, released a groundbreaking report that reveals for the first time how the American public views Native Americans. The report includes some stunning statistics on just how distorted and inaccurate public perception really is. Central to the findings is the role of the media in creating the problem, but also the potential for news and media to be part of the solution.

The false narratives, invisibility, and the erasure of Native peoples must end

Unprecedented research chips away at decades of misconceptions
Forget what your elementary teacher taught you about Native Americans.

American students learn some of the most damaging misconceptions and biases toward Native Americans in grades K-12. In fact, 87 percent of history books in the U.S. portray Native Americans as a population existing before 1900, according to a 2014 study on academic standards. For many Americans, we no longer exist.