U of O and Nike Miss Teachable Moment for Oregon History

This week the National Indian Education Association holds its 46th national conference in Portland, Oregon, bringing thousands of educators and community leaders committed to working for the betterment of Native social and educational stories.  One of the key position statements of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), Oregon Indian Education Association (OIEA), National Association for Education (NAME), and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is to eliminate American Indian mascots from schools, sports and the media. For students and educators familiar with this discourse in Oregon, we are aware of the struggle at the State Board of Education and the Oregon Legislature to address this issue. Over many years we have worked through community education, development of plans and materials, a mascot ban by the Board of Education, legislative intervention to allow a school district to seek a negotiated agreement with a local tribe on mascots, and an existing deadline for districts to resolve this issue. It has been a long, complex and difficult effort in seeking the elimination of racist and destructive images of Oregon’s First Nation people and to accurately portray the full story of Oregon history.

It was a frustrating and disheartening development as leaders from around the country gather in our state to see Nike and the University of Oregon reveal in its football game against Washington State University last Saturday a new “Pioneer” uniform that fails to portray with any accuracy the historical conflict between Oregon indigenous people and white, immigrant settlers.  The Pioneer theme in the uniform focuses on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Oregon Trail with no recognition of the cultural and historical consequences to Oregon tribes that eventually led to loss of lives, land and livelihood and the destruction of cultures that occupied Oregon lands for thousands of years.

The following link is the response of some faculty and staff at the University of Oregon trying to educate their UofO colleagues and students about how wearing specially designed Nike pioneer-themed football uniforms and helmets during a home game against WSU on October 10, 2015, celebrates violence and alienates Oregon Tribes.


The second link comes from UofO graduate, Dr. David Lewis, who is also involved in the alumni response to the Ducks wearing pioneer-themed uniforms and helmets at last Saturday’s home football game in Eugene.


The third document (link below) comes from Dr. Cornel Pewewardy, Professor and Director of Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University, writing on behalf of concerned faculty lending support toward educating and collaborating with each other in the spirit of affirming diversity through what Dr. Pewewardy refers to as “these multicultural teaching moments.”

UO Pioneer football uniform.2015 (3)

We are again reminded of the need to examine our historical narratives from all perspectives and to rigorously question and eliminate the perpetuation of cultural mythology.

Pat Burk, Ph.D.

Department of Educational Leadership and Policy


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