Object: Feather Headdress

E/48/8/15
United States of America
1930′-1940s
Materials: Feathers, Leather, Dye, Glass Beads

This feather headdress was worn by one time University of Oklahoma mascot Little Red, who was mascot up until the early 1970s. He was a Native American and would wear tradition tribal dress and an iconic headdress known as a war bonnet. Little Red would perform on the sidelines at football and basketball games, and he would preform war dances when the team would score a touch down.

Little Red became controversial in the minds of many in the 1960s. The ethics of using a Native American as a sports team mascot became a subject of much debate at the University and in the greater Native American community. On the surface, the discussion appeared like it was between Indians and non-Indians, but the truth of the matter was it was far more complicated than that. This debate was centered in the Native community eventually bringing many Native families into odds with each other. Families and friends couldn’t agree on whether or not Little Red was an acceptable depiction of their culture. In the end, Little Red became the first Native American mascot to be removed from a college setting.

In the late 1960s, many groups began to petition for the removal of Little Red. The National Indian Youth Council, claimed that, “Little Red serves as a symbol of the physical oppression and cultural degradation that American Indians had faced in the past.” For all of those fighting against Little Red, there seemed to be just as devoted a crowd fighting for him.

Randy Palmer, in particular, was noted as being particularly invested in saving Little Red. The Daily Oklahoma reported that Palmer went so far as to run on field at the OU – Wisconsin game in September of the 1970 season, and preformed in the capacity of Little Red to an ecstatic crowd even though the mascot had already been banned. The controversy over Little Red is still relevant today. With discussions and disputes over mascots and team names in college and professional athletics taking center stage, it is important to remember all of the cases that have come before. It is important to remember Little Red. If you would like to learn more about some of the debate surrounding the topic of Indian mascots, watch the video below from a panel discussion at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian:

Work Cited

DeSpain, Matthew S.
2013  Little Red Died for Your Sins: Playing Indian at the University of Oklahoma and the Rise and Fall of Little Red. Native Matters The Journal of Native American Studies. http://66.147.244.221/~nativema/2013/04/11/50/

[Abbey Take]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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