Stanford Indians

Posted on 21 November 2013

At the high school and professional levels, many sports teams in the United States still retain names, mascots, logos, and traditions that stereotype and demean indigenous peoples. At the intermediate level, however, American colleges and universities generally dropped Indianist symbols in the 1970s under pressure from Native students and indigenous advocacy groups. (A small number of holdouts such as the Florida Seminoles have, with approval of the NCAA, secured legal agreements with tribes.) In 1972 Stanford University led the way by abandoning, after more than forty years, its use of “Indians.”

The evolution of the Stanford Indian can be seen in these program covers to the annual Big Game between Stanford and its archrival, the University of California at Berkeley:

Stanford Indians

There were two main iterations of the Stanford Indian: a profile of a stately “chief” and a cartoon of a red-faced, big-nosed “buck.” This two-faced stereotype—racism tinged with romanticism or racism steeped in ridicule—has been part of American pop culture for two centuries. (The female equivalents are the “Indian princess” and the “squaw.”) To draw an analogy to the present, the Stanford Indians used to be like the Washington Redskins or the Chicago Blackhawks, but eventually degenerated into something like Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians. The program covers suggest that the change occurred around 1949, the centennial of the California Gold Rush.

Interestingly, racist stereotyping of Natives was a Big Game tradition even before Stanford athletics adopted “Indians” as its theme in 1930. Surprisingly, and shamefully, the stereotyping came from the Berkeley side. Consider these lyrics from “California Indian Song” (1910):

We are fighting Californians for the Gold and Blue
We are starting on the warpath for a scalp or two
Our blood’s up and simply boiling, what can Stanford do? …
We’re goin’ to scalp you Stanford
We’re goin’ to scalp you blue
We’ll do it with your tomahawk we took from you
All ’round our belts we’ll hand them to show all our friends who’s dead
We’re goin’ to to carve some blockheads, whose scalps are red

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