Another Way American Schools are Failing Native Youth

As part of the White House Tribal Nations Conference on December 3, President Obama launched an initiative to bolster opportunities and strengthen conditions for American Indian youth.

The White House also released the 2014 Native Youth Report, which reveals that schools lack “culturally relevant curriculum and culturally competent staff that understand how to reach Native youth” – even though 92 percent of Native American students go to public schools.

According to the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students graduate from high school at lower rates than other racial or ethnic groups and are much less likely to have an undergraduate degree. They also have less access to high-level courses in high school, and most aren’t proficient in reading or math by eighth grade.

One way schools are failing AI/AN youth that isn’t mentioned in the Native Youth Report is the continued, troubling use of native mascots – an issue that has gained attention on a national level not because of a school mascot, but because of the mascot of the professional football team located in Washington, D.C.

In a report released in July on native mascots, the Center for American Progress says the football team’s name is more than just racist: it has real effects on AI/AN youth every day.

The report, “Missing the Point: The Real Impact of Native Mascots and Team Names on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth,” reveals that offensive mascot names can foster hostile learning environments for AI/AN students, result in lower self-esteem and mental health, and lead to the development of cultural prejudices since the stereotypical depictions are often understood to be true.

AI/AN youth, according to the report, have a suicide rate that is 2.5 times higher than the national average. Native mascots not only misrepresent the AI/AN community – they mask an enduring affliction that is felt every day.