Play examines issue of Native American mascots

by University Communications,

When is the right time to speak out against racial stereotyping?

The Feb. 1 performance of “KICK” examined this question through the eyes of Grace Greene, a Native American high school student who takes a stand against her school’s “brave” mascot. The play was part of Willamette’s Indian Country Conversations Series.

In an emotional, one-woman performance, Cherokee actress DeLanna Studi switched seamlessly between the voices of Grace and the characters surrounding her, including her family, the school principal, a local reporter, her track coach and her classmates.

When an image of her school’s mascot is vandalized, Grace writes to her principal to ask that the school consider changing the mascot to something less offensive.

“It is wrong to use a living people to promote school spirit and sports teams,” she says in the letter. “It reduces more than 500 different cultures into a single stereotype, and racial stereotypes of any kind have no place in a public school.”

For Emily Funabiki ’13, the play demonstrated a personal side to the controversy surrounding Native American mascots.

“Before the play, I thought of Native American mascots as an issue of political correctness,” Funabiki said. “The play emphasized the human impact of mascot images and showed me that this is a personal issue.”

During the discussion following the performance, Willamette anthropology professor Rebecca Dobkins noted the parallels between the play and the conversation surrounding Native American mascots in Oregon. In 2006, high school student Che Butler raised the mascot issue to the state board of education, prompting a series of reforms in recent years.

“I was moved by that fact that in this play it was a young person standing up, and in our situation in Oregon it was a young person standing up, and then adults followed and were won over,” Dobkins said. “I think that is a really important message for young people.”

Studi hopes her performance can teach students that change is possible, and that they can bring about this change themselves.

“By having programs like this go into schools, it teaches youth that there is power in one voice crying out,” she said.

The Indian Country Conversations Series was established in 2005 to bring Native American guests to campus for dialogue, teaching and learning. The series is sponsored by Willamette’s Office of the President and College of Liberal Arts Dean’s Office. Dobkins coordinates the event in consultation with the university’s community-based Native American Advisory Council.

“KICK” was presented by Encompass, as part of the Compassion Play Program.