It was at a high school baseball game in 2019 that Becky Gaither's quiet resentment was transformed into action. The mother of three, who grew up in the Seattle area and traces her ancestry to the Cowichan tribe of the Pacific Northwest, was there to see her son on the field for South Point High in Belmont, N.C., "Home of the Red Raiders."

As the game got heated, so did the taunts from fans for the rival school, Stuart W. Cramer. It wasn't long before all of the most cliched Native American caricatures and stereotypes came out, she says: the hand-over-mouth war whoop, the "tomahawk chop" and "twirling around in a circle like a war dance."

Of course Gaither, who had been living in North Carolina for some three decades, was aware of the South Point mascot. But the display at the baseball game was the last straw, she says. She filmed it and sent a videotape to some like-minded community members on a Facebook page and spoke at local school board meetings calling for the Red Raider mascot to be retired.

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While public backlash against Native American stereotypes has pushed professional sports teams in Washington, D.C., and Cleveland, Ohio, to change their names, there remain countless high schools across the U.S. that continue to use Native American-themed mascots and logos.

"The mascot imagery just continues to perpetrate and reinforce colonial white supremacist ideas and [stands] as a barrier for new opportunities for dialogue and education," says Michael Johnson, chief strategy officer of IllumiNative, a national, Native woman-led racial and social justice organization based in Tulsa, Okla.

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"These things are firestorms at the local level," says Michael Lewis, a professor of marketing at Emory University whose work focuses on sports. "I mean, really kind of vicious battles."

Between the controversy among professional teams and the high schools, "I see more similarities than differences, except that we don't have the high-profile national media covering it," he says.

Self-identified Native Americans made up just 1.1% of the U.S. population in the 2020 census. A study that year by researchers at the University of Michigan surveyed Native Americans "who frequently engage in tribal or cultural practices." Of those polled, 70% said that sports fans wearing chief headdresses was offensive, while 73% said the same of sports fans imitating Native American dances.

Those objections have prompted efforts to do away with Native American mascot names in several states, with proposals introduced in at least 21 states, according to the National Congress of American Indians, or NCAI.

Read the complete article in NPR