Law students celebrate Native American Heritage Month

A former Justice Department employee called American Indian mascots racist and ugly caricatures at the GW Law School conference center Thursday.

The Native American Law Students Association sponsored Lawrence Baca’s speech, which focused mostly on the Indian sports mascot issue but also touched on other American Indian legal issues. His speech was part of the Multicultural Student Association’s celebration of Native American Heritage Month.

“The prevalence of these racist mascots is inextricably linked to the basic human rights that many Native Americans are not welcome to,” Baca said. “Countless native people cannot obtain loans from banks or live where they want to due to the negative stereotypes these mascots encourage.”

Baca said many schools have become racially hostile places because of American Indian mascots.

“My greatest concern is the affect of these mascots on our children who go to school and must deal with this imagery daily. Social scientists have proven that Indian children who attend the schools with these mascots perform worse academically, and non-Native children view Natives in a negative light,” he said.

Baca’s presentation comes out of a long line of controversial events regarding mascots. In 2005, the NCAA announced a policy banning American Indian nicknames and teams that used what they called “abusive imagery” from hosting postseason games.

The Native American Law Students Association began at GW two years ago. Law students interested in American Indian law or heritage promote awareness of the legal, political and social issues that affect the indigenous people of the Unites States.

The organization works to recruit and retain American Indian law students by providing the academic and social support necessary for their success in the legal realm.

“We have a very educational focus and we constantly work to raise awareness about Native American issues,” said Adrienne Hillery, president of NALSA. “Diversity is such a huge issue in law school, so we support diversity recruiting as well.”

The Red Crooked Sky American Indian Dance Troupe will perform at GW on Nov. 19 as another way to celebrate American Indian history.

There are 93 Native American GW students at the undergraduate and graduate level at GW, Michael Tapscott, director of the Multicultural Student Service Center said.

“Multicultural education is so important in college because the development of cross-cultural competencies is basically essential for future careers,” Baca said. “Every student should engage in activities like this.”

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