This High School's Racism Highlighted the Problem With Native Mascots

October 29th 2016

Willie Burnley Jr.

Although they may have won their football game Friday night, McClain High School in Ohio is taking a huge loss on social media for a racist message sent by the team's cheerleaders.

During a game against the Hillsboro Indians, cheerleaders for Greenfield, Ohio's McClain High School presented a sign that read “Hey Indians, Get Ready for a Trail of Tears Part 2.”

"The Trail of Tears" is a name used by native people for President Andrew Jackson's forced relocation of Cherokee tribe members from east of the Mississippi River to designated land in Oklahoma. While the death toll suffered by tribe members remains contested, estimates by Cherokee historians put the number near 4,000.

After posting an apology on their Facebook page, according to the local NBC affiliate, McClain High School apparently deleted it by Saturday morning. The high school’s Facebook page, which contained contact information, seems to have been removed at the time of this writing. (ATTN: has reached out to officials from the school and will update this story if they reply.)

The deleted apology read:

“Tonight an event occurred that does not reflect the values or beliefs that we try to instill in the students of McClain High School. An immediate apology was issued to both the principal and athletic director of Hillsboro High School. We would also like to apologize to the citizens of Greenfield for the poor reflection on our community. This matter will be addressed internally.”

The banner comes at a time of renewed scrutiny of the United States' treatment of indigenous people.

The debate around whether sports teams should have mascots that caricature Native Americans has raged for years, nearly even reaching the Supreme Court. However, the banner comes as protests by members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have prompted a hard look at the ways in which the United States and corporations have trampled on indigenous rights.

Members of the tribe have conducted extensive sit-ins and demonstrations to block the construction of a massive oil pipeline, which they say will both threaten their water supply and desecrate sacred lands. The protest has been met with mass arrests and a militarized police presence.

In September, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to halt construction of the pipeline, arguing that it violates treaties granting them national sovereignty.

Writing for ESPN earlier this week, essayist Sterling HolyWhiteMountain pointed out that the conversation around sports team caricatures of native peoples have largely neglected to dredge up the United States' history of breaking treaties with native people, damaging their sacred land or burial grounds, and brutalizing them.

What remains unaddressed is the true history of Indian Country, which is to say the true history of the United States: a story of abrogated treaties, of tribal sovereignty limited by Congressional law and of specious Supreme Court decisions, all of which have either hampered or destroyed the ability of tribal people to govern themselves as political sovereigns on their own land.

In referencing an egregious act almost two centuries old, the cheerleaders unintentionally sparked an online dialog that may push some people to try to understand the issues indigenous people currently face. At the very least, the outcry may help remind people that Native Americans are not a non-existent group that can be left in the past.