With new social media power, Native Americans take on mascot issue

This might well be the spark that leads to the end of racist Native American mascots.

In the wake of the University of North Dakota “Siouxper Drunk” party outrage, Native American leaders have finally found a tool to get the attention for their cause that has eluded them — social media, the BBC reports today.

“The images spread like wildfire over social media,” Ruth Hopkins a former student at the university from the Dakota and Lakota tribe, and a founding writer of the Native American website LastRealIndians tells the BBC. “Native Americans wanted answers,” she says. Hopkins wrote a blog condemning the students, and started the hashtag #Siouxperdrunk. It went on to be used thousands of times, mostly by Native Americans, who – like her – were angered by the affair.

The backlash was immediate and it worked. Compare that to the campaigns against racist mascots and sports team logos and names, which has mostly failed to gain traction.

Native Americans make up only around 2% of the US population, and are widely spread across the country, making it hard for them to get a story trending – unless they get support from the wider population. Alliance-building with other minority groups is an important part of their strategy. As we’ve reported on this blog before, race is a particularly hot topic on social media in the US.

In the case of the #NotYourMascot, the well-known and influential Asian-American Twitter campaigner Suey Park – who started the hashtag #NotYourAsianSideKick – offered advice, says Jacqueline Keeler, a founding member of the group Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, which led the social media campaign.

The group told their supporters about the hashtag ahead of time, and agreed to start using it the night before so as to gain momentum for the big night.

Social media could be an equalizer for the relatively few working in mainstream media, a fact that leads to less coverage of Native American issues. In an op-ed today on CNN, Simon Moya-Smith thinks things are about to change…

NCAI’s hashtag, #ProudToBe, is a video and photo campaign that uses the web and demonstrates that we are more than a costume. We are more than a mascot. In fact, the second half of the campaign against the dehumanization of Native Americans in the form of sports mascots is aptly called “#NotYourMascot.” And many of this nation’s leaders have joined in the growing chorus of conscientious objectors who see Indian mascots for what they are: racist.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Sen. Maria Cantwell, and Washington, D.C., Councilman David Grosso have each been photographed holding signs that read “#ProudToBe Standing With #NotYourMascot.” And, according to the folks at the National Congress of American Indians, more photos continue to stream in.

Grosso, who’s a Washington Redskins season ticket holder, recently told me he predicts the team name will, in fact, be abolished in the next five years.