Native American Journalists Association Responds to Newspaper’s Headline “Cowboys Scalp Indians”

The Edna Cowboys play a high school football playoff game on November 23, 2018. Photo from Facebook.

Published December 3, 2018

NORMAN, Okla. — One Texan local newspaper provided one more prime example why the usage of American Indian mascots and/or imagery for sports teams is inappropriate because people really don’t know when to stop.

The story, published in the Jackson County Herald-Tribune (based in Edna, Texas, a small town located southwest of Houston), was a story about two high school teams, the Edna Cowboys and Jourdanton Indians, playing each other in an area football playoff game on November 23, 2018. The Edna team beat the Jourdanton team by 48-6.

For the folks at the Jackson County Herald-Tribune that covers its local Edna team, the score involving the Cowboys and Indians was too good to be true and the editors went with opportunity to use “Cowboys Scalp Indians” for its headline to the story.

On Monday, December 3, 2018, the Native American Journalists Assocation issued the following statement:

NAJA responds to headline “Cowboys Scalp Indians” by Michael Brooks

The Native American Journalists Association extends an invitation to Michael Brooks and publisher Chris Lundstrom to participate in an ethics and coverage training.

Michael Brooks, a sports writer for the Jackson County Herald-Tribune, recently authored a story headlined “Cowboys Scalp Indians” posted to the jacksonconews.com website. This headline marks a significant lapse in ethical judgement on the part of the writer and editorial staff.

Photo used in “Cowboys scalp Indian” story by Jackson County

“Cowboys Scalp Indians” is a reference to a time in US history when Indigenous people were hunted for bounty, and when the genocidal practice of violently annihilating Native communities was federal policy. For instance, an excerpt from The Daily Republican newspaper in Winona, Minnesota from Sept. 24, 1863, reads:

“The State reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory. This sum is more than the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth.”

In order to claim the bounty, a “red-skin” scalp was needed as evidence of the killing.

NAJA condemns referencing or alluding to genocidal practices to sell newspapers when the story in question has nothing to do with said practices. NAJA demands that the Jackson County Herald-Tribune and its publisher Chris Lundstrom immediately retract the headline, apologize for its errant and unethical use, and participate in journalism ethics training.

Referring to the act of scalping Indigenous people violates the dignity of men, women and children that were victims of the practice. This is not simply a callous or thoughtless use of language, “Cowboys Scalp Indians” violates basic journalism ethics by employing stereotypes, distorting context and failing to minimize harm. More importantly, such language downplays crimes now defined as genocide by human rights observers and glorifies such racially-motivated acts by ignoring context at the expense of Indigenous people.

NAJA encourages Mr. Lundstrom to review the Herald-Tribune’s editorial policies and take steps to raise the journalistic ethics to acceptable, and accepted, standards.

NAJA offers newsroom trainings to any media organization interested in improving its coverage of Native people and issues. Please contact us at contact@naja.com to discuss or schedule a training.

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