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Recognizing Indigenous People

Conferences, lectures and more will mark special day

Dr. Maura Rosenthal’s students are not content to simply learn about Indigenous people. They’re sharing those lessons with others as they dispel stereotypes.

Students in Rosenthal’s Adolescent Development for Physical Activity Leaders class will present this week about Indigenous sports mascots and their psychosocial effect on youth.

“I hope at least one person thinks differently (after the event),” said Frankie Fredericks, ’22, a physical education major with a concentration in motor development therapy. “I hope they come in with an open mind.”

Their presentation, which is part of a series of online activities commemorating Indigenous Peoples Day (Oct. 12), looks at mascots at the local, college and professional levels and their effects on youngsters. Across the country, activists have argued nicknames such Indians, Chiefs and Redskins and traditions like tomahawk chops are racist.

“Even youth who play against (a team with an Indigenous mascot) are exposed to some of these images,” said Rosenthal, a professor in the Department of Movement Arts, Health Promotion and Leisure Studies. “It impacts their stereotypical opinions of Indigenous people.”

Other events in the series include discussions about environmental justice, Massachusetts legislative initiatives and voting, and social justice. Separately, BSU is hosting the free Indigenous History Conference, which features online sessions, on weekends this month and next. The conference, sponsored by BSU, Plymouth 400, and the Wampanoag Advisory Council, aims to inspire educators to learn about natives. Programming covers creation histories and traditional life, colonization and its aftermath, and the resilience and life of natives today.

Many of Rosenthall’s students hope to work in the recreation field or with children with disabilities. The programming they will create in such positions must be inclusive to be successful.

“We really need to keep these issues of identity and social justice at the forefront,” Rosenthal said.  “Names matter and images matter.”

Frankie, who hopes to become a physical therapist, found his BSU classes deepened his understanding of Indigenous people as members of an important, large civilization. The use of Indigenous symbols as mascots, on the other hand, accentuates the stereotype of natives as members of warring, primitive tribes, he said.

“They are dehumanizing people to make them seem like savage beasts,” he said. “How would we feel if there was a whole university called the Whites?”

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