SAD 54 residents argue over keeping the Indian mascot for school sports teams

The SAD 54 school board limited remarks to residents of the districts towns and state legislators.

Harold Bigelow speaks in favor of keeping the use of the word Indian for SAD 54 sports teams. Bigelow and others spoke during a forum in Skowhegan on Monday. Staff photo by David Leaming
Harold Bigelow speaks in favor of keeping the use of the word Indian for SAD 54 sports teams. Bigelow and others spoke during a forum in Skowhegan on Monday. Staff photo by David Leaming

By Doug Harlow,

SKOWHEGAN — Whose heritage is honored by the Native American image and the name “Indians” for sports teams?

Is it the players, parents and boosters of Skowhegan Area High School who say the nickname is their tradition, their identity and their way of respecting Native Americans by channeling their strength and bravery in sports competition?

Or does the heritage belong to the native people who lived for centuries along the banks of the Kennebec River, only to be wiped out by disease, war and racism with the arrival of Europeans?

That was the question Monday night during a public forum on the continued use of the word “Indians” as a sports mascot, nickname or good luck charm.

The School Administrative District 54 board agreed to hold the forum, noting that only residents of the school district and state legislators be allowed to speak. The decision drew criticism from those supporting the name change that the gathering would be one-sided, calling it a “mock forum,” but others said it was fair to give residents of SAD 54 their chance to speak out.

Representatives of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac tribes — all members of the umbrella Wabanaki federation in Maine — told a school board subcommittee April 13 that the use of the word Indians is an insult to Native Americans. Members of the four Indian tribes want the name changed. They say they are people and people are not mascots.

The SAD 54 school board will discuss the matter at their regular meeting on Thursday possibly leading to a vote on the issue.

Speakers at the forum appeared to be divided evenly for and against keeping the name. Each speaker was given two minutes to speak.

Harold Bigelow, of Skowhegan, told the assembly of more than 60 people that there are Native Americans “who side with us” in support of keeping Skowhegan the Indians.

“The natives today are being compensated for their past with entitlements and free education,” Bigelow said. “I personally feel they ought to focus on their own problems within, rather than creating problems for others. It is definitely not racist. Do what is right — this is our history, not theirs.”

Mary Stuart, of Canaan, a former SAD 54 teacher, stood to ask with a show of hands how many people in the audience were veterans. She then asked how many had relatives that were veterans. Many more hands were raised.

Stuart then said the people who are veterans get to say they are veterans — not their children and grandchildren — and it’s the same with American Indians.

“I am not a veteran, and we are not Indians,” she said.

School board members said last week that because tribal members had their chance to speak in April, that Monday’s forum was designed to give local people a chance to have their say.

The gymnasium at Skowhegan Area Middle School filled before the meeting with people holding signs saying “Retire the Mascot” and others wearing Skowhegan Indians baseball caps in support of keeping the name.

John Alsop, of Cornville, called for the elimination of the mascot name.

“I contend that if we wish to honor the Indians as we say that we do, we should start first by listening to them,” Alsop said. “If they say they do not want their heritage, their traditions, their culture and identity used as a mascot, then I think we should do as they ask. We should respect their point of view as friends.”

Judy York, of Skowhegan, disagreed, saying she grew up in poverty, just like many other people in the area, including the Native Americans. She said discussion on continued use of the word is all about a name. The school has dropped all of the offensive images of the past, York said.

“We no longer have the images on the shirts, fields or courts, so what is the problem?” York asked. “We have Indians on the brochures for tourism, so what is the difference? It’s who we are.”

Resident Sean Poirier agreed.

“We take pride in our community,” Poirier said. “We will be forever more Skowhegan Indians.”

At issue is not the town seal — an Indian spearing fish on the Kennebec River — or even the image of an Indian painted on the wall of the high school gymnasium, Barry Dana, of Solon, former chief of the Penobscot Nation, has said in the weeks leading up to the forum.

State Rep. Matthew Dana II, who represents the Passamaquoddy tribe in the Legislature, was unable to make Monday night’s forum.

Maliseet Tribal Representative Henry J. Bear was present Monday night and spoke briefly about community spirit and unity, wishing friendship for both sides of a passionate issue. He said after the Revolutionary War the first treaty the new “founders” of the United States made was with the St. John River Indians.

“The first treaty would be signed with the ‘Americans,’” Bear said. “We are the Americans. They were describing tribal people.”

Maulian Smith, a Penobscot woman who grew up and still lives and works on Indian Island, stood to read a letter from Kirk Francis, chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation who authorized her to speak for the tribe. Smith was told that because she is not a resident, she could not speak at the forum as a proxy. A Skowhegan police officer escorted her to her seat, but she would not sit down.

Former Skowhegan selectwoman and county commissioner Lynda Quinn said what the Indian mascot issue has created is fear.

“It’s fear of losing a community identity,” she said. “Fear of being racist. Fear that this is just the beginning of other things that will be forced upon us. Fear of our community being run by and dedicated by people from the outside. Fear begets hate, and hate thrives in political correctness.”

For about 90 minutes people stood to speak of culture and history and respect for what sports boosters grew up loving and honoring and respecting tribal people who say that the word Indian is not respecting them.

Some said it was time to start a new tradition, one based on the actual history of Skowhegan and the Kennebec River. Others said the tradition of Skowhegan Indian pride was here to stay.

Skowhegan is one of the only high schools left in Maine with an Indian mascot, bucking a national trend to end racial stereotyping of American Indians as sports mascots.

The first Maine school to change was Scarborough High School in 2001. The school dropped Redskins in favor of Red Storm. Husson University eliminated the Braves nickname and became the Eagles. In 2011 Wiscasset High School and Sanford High School eliminated the Redskins nickname. Wiscasset teams are now known as the Wolverines, while Sanford athletes are the Spartans.

In Old Town, the nickname Indians was dropped and Coyotes was adopted.

Greg Potter, superintendent of Newport-based RSU 19, which includes Nokomis Regional High School, said the American Indian image has not been dropped entirely at the high school, but has been incorporated along with other images in a kind of coat of arms to represent the district and its history, not a school sports mascot.

Wells High School has been the “Warriors” also and last year was in the process of phasing out Native American imagery to become a more neutral “Warriors,” according to a published report.

“It’s a process that has been ongoing,” Ellen Schneider, who was Wells superintendent of schools, said in May 2014. “It’s a non-issue in our community. We’re trying to do this quietly.”

Wells Town Manager Jonathan L. Carter on Monday said the Native American imagery appears to be still in place.

“I don’t think they’ve dropped it,” Carter said.

Carter said Schneider has since resigned along with the school district’s business manager, but that he does not know why. Helena Ackerson, chairman of the local school committee; Diana Allen, vice chairman; committee member Jason Vennard and Wells High School principal Jim Daly have not replied to email inquiries for comment on the issue.

Discontent over the Indian mascot is not new for Skowhegan schools.

The school board’s Educational Policy and Program Committee voted in 2001 to keep the Indian name and propose a single American Indian symbol to represent the teams. The SAD 54 board had debated the issue for two years after receiving a letter from the American Indian Movement in 1999. The letter called the use of an Indian for the high school’s mascot offensive.

A committee of high school staff and students in 2001 also surveyed 800 students and staff and found the majority felt that the use of the name “Indians” was not disrespectful, although many of the American Indian symbols, including murals and a wooden sculpture in the cafeteria, did not reflect the tribes from the area.

Another problem was that a mascot head with oversized facial features had been used at athletic events. School board directors banned use of that head after parents complained.

Colorado Senate weighs bill limiting Native American mascots

By The Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — Legislation to prohibit Native American mascots at Colorado schools unless a tribe approves faces its toughest test in the state Senate.

The proposal passed the House this month by one vote with every Republican opposed. Now it’s up for a vote in a GOP-led Senate committee on Wednesday.

The bill would direct schools to get permission from a panel of tribes to use or continue to use Native American mascots. Schools that don’t get permission would have to stop the use within two years or face a fine of $25,000 a month.

Schools and lawmakers opposed to the bill have cited the costs of switching mascots and updating uniforms as a major concern.

Supporters say the state should not condone derogatory team names at schools.



House Bill 1165:

Bill would ban California schools from using ‘Redskins’

Members of the Chowchilla High School Marching Band display their “Redskin” banner in 2009. Chowchilla would have to stop using Redskins if the Legislature approves a ban of the name. Lisa James Merced Sun-Star file
Members of the Chowchilla High School Marching Band display their “Redskin” banner in 2009. Chowchilla would have to stop using Redskins if the Legislature approves a ban of the name. Lisa James Merced Sun-Star file

By Shawn Jansen, Merced Sun-Star

Public schools in California would have to stop using the term “Redskins” for their sports teams or mascot if a bill is approved by state legislators.

Assembly Bill 30, authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, would prohibit schools from using the name beginning Jan. 1, 2017. If the legislation becomes law, California would become the first state to ban the use of Redskins for public schools.

The Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media and the Education Committee have approved the bill. It now heads to the Appropriations Committee before it can go before the full Assembly and then the Senate.

The four high schools in California that still use Redskins as their mascot are Chowchilla in Madera County, Gustine in Merced County, Calaveras in Calaveras County and Tulare Western in Tulare County.

“We’ve been down this road since, I believe, 1996,” said Calaveras Unified School District Superintendent Mark Campbell. “This bill seems to have a better chance to pass.

“I don’t pretend to think some people aren’t offended by the use of Redskins. We understand that and if we have to make a change, we will. Our community doesn’t want it, our Native American community doesn’t want it, but if we have to, we’ll make the change,” Campbell said.

If forced to make the change, Chowchilla and Gustine won’t be as willing.

“We don’t call those offended by the term Redskins, Redskins. We call ourselves Redskins,” said Chowchilla Union High School District Superintendent Ron Seals. “We use the term as a sense of pride, respect and honor. We don’t use it in a derogatory way.

“It’s been our school mascot since the (1920s). In the fall, we’re going to celebrate our 100-year celebration. We are a one-high school town. We’re a small community with lots of alumni and generations of Redskins,” Seals said.

To help offset cost issues, the California Racial Mascots Act would allow schools to continue using uniforms and other items bearing the term Redskins that were purchased before Jan. 1, 2017, if the school selects a new mascot and doesn’t buy new uniforms with the old nickname.

Schools would be able to replace up to 20 percent of uniforms with the old name until Jan. 1, 2019.

The costs of phasing out the name go far beyond uniforms for teams, cheerleaders and bands. There are gyms, scoreboards and other things on campus that would have to be changed.

“We did a study of the costs, and it will cost at least $110,000, and perhaps more,” Gustine Unified School District Superintendent Ronald Estes wrote in an e-mail. “I see this as a local control issue; district school boards should be able to make this type of decision based on local concerns and needs.”

Campbell estimates it would cost roughly $55,000 to $65,000 for Calaveras to eliminate the term Redskins from the school. Anticipating that eventually it would have to change, the school has been using Calaveras more than Redskins on projects around campus.

Estes, Gustine Principal John Petrone and the five GUSD board members signed a letter sent to Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.

In the letter, they write: “We are certainly aware of the sensitivity behind the utilization of the Redskin name. We have heard from Native Americans who have expressed opinions on both sides of the argument. What we have and continue to state emphatically is that at no time in the nearly 80 years we have used the Redskin moniker have we disparaged Native Americans, or portrayed our mascot in a derogatory fashion.”

This isn’t the first time these schools have faced the possibility of making these changes. The use of Redskins as a mascot has been a heated debate, including the NFL’s Washington Redskins. This is the third time state lawmakers have tried to ban the use of Native American terms as nicknames or mascots.

In 2002, a bill calling for the ban of nicknames such as Indians, Braves and Chiefs was introduced but failed. In 2004, Jackie Goldberg, who was then an assemblywoman from Los Angeles, narrowed the bill to ban just Redskins. The bill was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“There is obviously a lack of respect when we allow teams to brand themselves with racial slurs,” Alejo told the Los Angeles Times. “The R-word was once used to describe Native American scalps sold for bounty, and in today’s society it has become widely recognized as a racial slur.”

Like Estes, Seals feels those decisions should be made at the local level. He said school officials won’t have any discussions about a possible new nickname if and when a law is passed.

“I’m not traveling to Watsonville and calling the legislator a Redskin,” Seals said. “I’m not sitting in my district and telling him what he should do. So for him to sit in his district and tell me what to do in mine doesn’t sit well with me.”

EMU’s Native American student group asks university for more support during rally

The Native American Student Organization at Eastern Michigan University held a rally Wednesday, April 22, in reaction to a report some students dressed in Native American garb and painted their faces red during an off-campus party. BEN BAIRD-WASHTENAW NOW
The Native American Student Organization at Eastern Michigan University held a rally Wednesday, April 22, in reaction to a report some students dressed in Native American garb and painted their faces red during an off-campus party. BEN BAIRD-WASHTENAW NOW

By Ben Baird, The Ypsilanti Courier

YPSILANTI — In response to an April 11 off-campus party where Eastern Michigan students allegedly dressed in Native American garb and painted their faces red, a university student organization took a public stand Wednesday saying they will not accept silence or for this to be swept under the rug.

Amber Morseau, president of EMU’s Native American Student Organization, said they were rallying that day to stand in unity against racism of Native Americans both on and off campus.

“These students involved decided that our culture was a costume they could just put on for a few hours and take off again when it suited them,” she said. “(They) claimed they were Hurons and honoring our people.”

There was no honor in what they did, Morseau said.

NASO members made clear they are not satisfied with the university administration’s response so far, both in regards to the students in red face as well as the reappearance of the Hurons logo on campus. The Hurons mascot was eliminated more than 20 years ago after a campus-wide effort was begun by four Native American women who found it disrespectful.

Davi Trusty, who was the president of NASO in 1991 when he attended EMU, said he feels it’s a shame Native American students are still fighting the same issues that he fought.

If someone thinks it’s okay to tell a Native American to go back to the reservation or to put makeup on their face and pretend to be an “Indian” something is wrong in that person’s psyche, he said.

Trusty said they appreciate the love and support members of the community have shown following this incident.

Morseau said Kay McGowan, an adjunct professor at EMU who teaches anthropology and sociology classes, spoke to each of her classes April 15 about racism, disrespect toward women and the culture of erasure – of a dominant culture diminishing another.

McGowan, the only Native American professor on campus, subsequently received an email from someone identifying himself as “John Smith” who told her no harm was intended by what happened April 11 and that the Native American community was overreacting.

“This email alone demonstrates to us that these students involved do not understand what it is they have done and they certainly have yet to see the consequences deserved for what we consider to be a hate crime,” Morseau said.

What happened was not a spontaneous action, McGowan said, for such a large group to all be dressed and painted at once. This was planned and done on purpose, she said.

“I want to know why, who did it and what was their intent,” she said. “Along with an apology.”

Sandy Norton, EMU Faculty Senate president, said the university’s faculty is dedicated to the education of their students. This is an opportunity for the students who did this to grow and realize domination is not okay regardless of what group someone is from, she said.

“This is not an isolated incident as you well know, this is simply another manifestation of people who are in a position of privilege and dominance appropriating another culture, representing something in a way that’s destructive and damaging,” she said. “And the issue? They don’t even realize that they’re doing it, that’s what’s scary.”

EMU faculty’s job is to get them into classrooms, meeting other people, talking to other people, and asking themselves questions so they can grow, Norton said.

NASO speakers are asking the students responsible to come forward with a public apology.

Morseau said they are all aware of the incident from April 11 when as many as 20 EMU students in red face, dressed up wearing things like headdresses and portraying the mainstream stereotype of Native Americans, attended an off-campus party.

Nathan Philips, a resident of Ypsilanti, Omaha Nation member and native elder, was walking in the neighborhood when he encountered these students on Ballard Street.

When he asked what they were doing, he said some of the students responded by saying, “We’re the F-ing Hurons!”

Phillips told the students they weren’t honoring Native Americans, but were being racist and offensive.

“And as soon as I said ‘racist,’ it turned from honoring the Indians to, ‘Go back to the reservation, you F-ing Indian, get the F out of here,'” Phillips told 7 Action News.

He also said a beer can was thrown at him.

Phillips attended Wednesday’s rally, during which he made a point to go through the entire crowd of those assembled, taking the hand one-by-one of everyone he approached.

Phillips is also a Vietnam veteran and by May 2013 he completed 500 miles of walking while carrying a POW/MIA flag in honor of fellow veterans. During the rally, Phillip’s flag was carried by Chris Sutton, NASO treasurer.

NASO response to EMU

While Morseau thanked the EMU administration for acknowledging what happened and for both the university and police conducting an investigation, they don’t believe the inciting behavior is being addressed as well as it should be. She said they feel the university’s carefully worded response sent out to students and faculty on April 17 had the effect of minimizing the situation.

“We, as a Native American student organization, feel that the racist attitudes and behaviors that led to the assault are a much bigger problem than the university would like to admit,” she said.

Sutton said the university’s response is kind of what led to the rally – as a way to offer more details to the public.

They expect more from the university, Morseau said, that evidence of pervasive racism be met with a renewed commitment to honor the promises of respect the native community received, including the removal of the Hurons logo throughout campus.

She added the actions against Phillips not only impact the Native American students on EMU’s campus, but the Native American community in Ypsilanti and throughout Michigan as a whole.

It’s also not just a problem for Native Americans, but for all marginalized communities, Morseau said.

If there are those who feel they can discriminate against Native Americans, Trusty said it’s only a matter of time before other groups of people are targeted.

“It’s not just us, trust me, it is you,” he said. “We are all interconnected.”

EMU has said it immediately began an investigation after hearing about what happened April 11.

“Eastern Michigan University takes these matters very seriously and remains strongly committed to maintaining a respectful, inclusive and safe environment, in which acts that seek to inflict physical, psychological or emotional harm on specific demographic groups will not be tolerated,” said Geoff Larcom, EMU’s director of media relations, in a statement.

Austen Smith contributed to this report

Change the Mascot Leaders Call on NFL Players Association Executive Director Candidates to Stand Against D.C. Team’s R-Word Mascot

By Oneida Nation News, Oneida Nation Enterprises- Public Affairs Office

CTM4Logo_change the mascotWith elections coming soon for the position of Executive Director of the NFL Player Association (NFLPA), Change the Mascot campaign leaders have issued a letter to all of the candidates urging them to take a stand against the racist name of the Washington NFL team. The letter, issued by the National Congress of American Indians, the United South and Eastern Tribes, and the Oneida Indian Nation, cites current Executive Director DeMaurice Smith’s recent comments opposing the name. It also encourages the candidates to make public statements on the subject and to pledge to put forward a resolution to NFLPA members proposing that the organization join the Change the Mascot campaign and demand that the league change the name.

The letter notes how sports, and particularly beloved athletes, have unique power in shaping today’s culture. Correspondingly, it calls upon the future NFLPA Executive Director to use his position by being an importance voice for equality.

“Athletes are in a unique position to take up the cause of social justice – especially on an issue like this that is so intertwined with professional sports. In the spirit of solidarity that the NFLPA so often promotes, we hope you will stand with us in this critical campaign,” states the letter.

The letter also cites how continued use of the R-word name is an affront for current NFL players on both a moral level by forcing them to wear and promote the iconography of the slur, and on an economical level by potentially reducing revenues.

The Change the Mascot letter was sent to Executive Director DeMaurice Smith who is running for re-election, as well as other candidates Jim Acho, Jason Belser, Sean Gilbert, Robert Griffith, Rob London, Arthur McAfee, Andrew Smith and John Stufflebeam.

The election for NFLPA Executive Director is scheduled for March 15.

Change the Mascot is a grassroots campaign that works to educate the public about the damaging effects on Native Americans arising from the continued use of the R-word. This civil and human rights movement has helped reshape the debate surrounding the Washington team’s name and brought the issue to the forefront of social consciousness. Since its launch last season, Change the Mascot has garnered support from a diverse coalition of prominent advocates including elected officials from both parties, Native American tribes, sports icons, leading journalists and news publications, civil and human rights organizations and religious leaders.

The full text of the letter to the candidates is included below and can be found on the Change the Mascot website here.

Dear NFLPA Executive Director Candidate,

From Jesse Owens to Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali, athletes hold a special leadership position in history’s crusades for social justice. That has never been truer than it is today: as sports have become such an integral part of American culture, athletes have unique power to shape that culture for the better and to be a voice for the cause of equality.

The National Football League Players Association has been one of the organizations that has consistently marshaled that power for this righteous cause, standing in solidarity with others, just as civil rights groups have stood with the union. Because you are a candidate to become the next executive director of this hallowed organization, we are writing to you with a critical request: we are asking that you pledge that, if elected, you will put a resolution forward to NFLPA members allowing them to vote to have the organization formally join our Change the Mascot Campaign.

Our campaign’s goal is simple: we want the NFL to use its power to finally stop the Washington franchise from promoting a dictionary-defined racial slur as its name. This is a word screamed at Native Americans as they were dragged at gunpoint off their lands — and it was a name originally given to the team by one of America’s most infamous segregationists, George Preston Marshall. As public health organizations have attested, this name has significant negative effects on Native Americans: every Sunday, the promotion of this name tells millions of Americans it is acceptable to denigrate native peoples on the basis of their alleged skin color.

Just as the NFL would never dare allow any other racial slur to brand one of its teams, it should not allow this name to continue to be promoted for the team that represents the nation’s capital. That is a common sense view understood by current professional football players including Richard Sherman and Champ Bailey; by former stars such as Terry Bradshaw, Calvin Hill and Mark Schlereth; and by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the organization that works with the league to promote civil rights. They have all spoken out against the continued use of the team’s current name, as have major Native American organizations, public health organizations, religious leaders, sports media icons, governors, Members of Congress from both parties and the President of the United States.

For current NFL players, this name is an affront on two levels.

Morally, it is unacceptable for the league to continue forcing athletes to wear uniforms that publicly promote the iconography of a racial slur.

Economically, the continued use of the name potentially reduces revenues for players. According to an Emory University study of college teams, “The shift away from a Native American mascot yields positive financial returns.” With the NFLPA generating some of its revenues through merchandise sales, continuing to use the Washington team’s name forsakes the same positive financial returns that players could reap if the name were changed.

Last year, the current NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith issued a statement to The Washington Post correctly noting that the Washington team’s name conveys “racial insensitivity” and declared that “I do not believe anyone should inflict pain, embarrass or insult, especially given the racial insensitivity” of the team’s name.

We applaud Mr. Smith for making such a bold statement, and we are asking that all current candidates for NFLPA executive director make similar public statements. But we are also asking that the candidates take it a step further by pledging to have the full membership of the NFLPA vote on a formal resolution to join the Change the Mascot campaign and to demand that the league change the team’s name.

As noted at the beginning of this letter, athletes are in a unique position to take up the cause of social justice – especially on an issue like this that is so intertwined with professional sports. In the spirit of solidarity that the NFLPA so often promotes, we hope you will stand with us in this critical campaign.

Native American Mascot Issue Stirs Strong Debate In West Hartford

By Suzanna Carlson, The Hartford Courant

hartfordWEST HARTFORD — The high schools’ Warrior and Chieftain mascots were described alternately as proud and respectful or racist and offensive by speakers at a community forum on Thursday night.

About 300 people attended the board of education forum, and about 50 spoke. No decision was made.

Dozens of students from Conard High School wore shirts emblazoned with “Save the Chieftain,” but students, teachers and parents from both Conard and Hall high schools expressed widely opposing views.

Those who support the mascots described them as symbols of pride and said they honored Native American culture. Many of the speakers pointed to the fact that leaders of the local Mohegan tribe, in consultation with students, have said they support the mascots’ use. Some cited a recent poll at Conard showing that 80 percent of students and 60 percent of teachers want to keep the symbol.

But others argued that the mascots are antiquated, racist caricatures that should be eliminated. Several said they have consulted with other Native American groups across the country who vehemently oppose the use of Native American imagery as sports mascots.

Quyen Truong said she attended Conard about 10 years ago and was asked to create the Conard Chieftain logo of a native man in a headdress.

“I genuinely thought at that time that I was honoring the Chieftains,” Truong said.

In college, Truong said, she met Native Americans for the first time and learned how historically marginalized cultures are denigrated by such imagery. She said she realized her work was “deeply offensive” to “a whole group of people that I didn’t really know and understand, and I became very conflicted about what I had done in high school. … My perspective has shifted and I really want to strongly advocate to retire the chieftain.”

Many of those opposed referred to decisions by groups such as the American Psychological Association, the National Education Association and the National Congress of American Indians to reject the use of Native American mascots and imagery, and urged the board of education to end up on “the right side of history.”

Arguing to keep the mascots, Tom Midney said the names are “meant to bestow pride, honor, and respect. … Don’t disrespect that tradition over such folly. That would be truly offensive.”

Parent Ted Mancini said he’s “sick and tired of listening” to what he described as a “PC witch hunt,” and said the majority’s opinion should dictate that the mascots remain intact.

The issue is not only the mascots, but the schools’ cheering sections, The Reservation and The Tribe, as well as the name of the Conard newspaper, “The Powwow.”

School Superintendent Tom Moore said the cost to change the schools’ logos would be around $50,000, and could total $100,000 if the logos and names were all changed.

“This has been both a challenging and invigorating process,” board of education Chairman Mark Overmyer-Velazquez said. “It’s not always been an easy one, it’s not always been entirely graceful … but it’s been a profound example of the democratic process that we have here and our students have learned a lot from it.”

The board of education is expected to meet soon to discuss the issue and decide whether the mascots should be changed.

USET Endorses Legislation to Revoke Trademarks of Washington NFL Team’s Racist Name

Source: USET Media Release

The prominent inter-tribal organization is supporting a bill that was introduced in the House of Representatives this week by Congressman Mike Honda

The United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) today strongly endorsed a bill that would remove all trademark protections of the Washington NFL team as long as the franchise retains the R-word racial slur as its team name.

Congressman Mike Honda introduced the legislation, entitled The Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act, this week in the U.S. House of Representative. The bill, which already has 26 co-sponsors, seeks to prevent any sports team from using a derogatory slur for Native Americans as its mascot and nickname.

“Congressman Honda has taken a bold stand against racism, discrimination and the continued denigration of Native Americans by introducing this legislation, which USET strongly supports,” said USET President Brian Patterson.  “If the NFL’s Washington’s franchise is unwilling to change the offensive mascot then steps should be taken, wherever possible, to eliminate public funding and trademark protections for a league that persists in offending and insulting Native peoples.”

The new House bill would retroactively cancel any existing federal trademarks and prohibit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) from issuing new trademarks that use the term “r-dskins” in reference to Native Americans. It will also formally declare the word “r-dskins” a disparaging term when used in reference to Native Americans and therefore cannot be trademarked.

USET will hold its Welcome Reception Monday night, February 9th at 6PM.  The reception will feature Congressman Honda and USET leadership, who will reaffirm USET’s strong opposition to the continued use of the R-word and other negative imagery and stereotypes.  USET wishes to express support to Rep. Honda’s legislation that would remove the Washington football team of its name trademark protections. He will be provided podium time to make remarks.  The reception will be held in Salon four at the Marriott Crystal Gateway in Arlington, Virginia.

USET is a nationally recognized, non-profit, inter-tribal organization that collectively represents 26 member Tribes at the regional and national level. As a top organization addressing the issues facing Native Americans, USET has for years taken a leading role in demanding an end to the use of the racist R-word. Over the past two NFL seasons, USET and the national grassroots Change the Mascot campaign have garnered support from a diverse cross section of Americans including civil rights leaders, religious and human rights organizations, sports icons, political leaders from both parties and the President of the United States.

This week, USET will hold its annual Impact Week Meeting in Washington, D.C.  The four-day event including meetings with Members of Congress and various government organizations about top issues facing Indian Country, as well as a variety of cultural activities and celebrations.

“I’ll fucking cut you.” Behind the scenes of the 1491s’ segment on “The Daily Show”

Photo courtesy of Migizi Pensoneau
Photo courtesy of Migizi Pensoneau

Posted by Migizi Pensoneau at the Missoula Independent

Editor’s note: Last night “The Daily Show” aired a segment about Washington’s controversial football team nickname. The segment included the 1491s, a Native American comedy troupe the Indy has profiled and which includes Migizi Pensoneau, who lives in Missoula and contributes regularly to the paper. Migizi wrote the following behind-the-scenes account of the segment and how it came about.

A couple of weeks back, the 1491s got an email from a producer at “The Daily Show” hosted by Jon Stewart. They were recruiting for a panel discussion regarding the Washington Redskins, and the mascot controversy that surrounds the team. And they wanted us—a Native American sketch comedy/video group that tackles everything from Indian Country politics to fart jokes—to weigh in. As a writer, educator, satirist and smart-ass, I was excited about the opportunity. While we love the reach that YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other Internet avenues provide, there’s something bewitching about being on national TV, and on a show we respect.

Less than a week after we got the email, three members of our group—including me—were whisked away to our nation’s capitol for two full days of shooting. The morning after we arrived, a Saturday, we learned more about the premise of the shoot. There would be two panels: pro-Redskins fans (as in, pro-mascot, pro-dressing up as Indian, anti-name changers) and anti-mascot activists, which included the three of us joined by five other indigenous panelists. The plan was to let the first panel make their case: talk about how the mascot honors Natives, that the name “Redskins” only refers to fans of the team and not Native Americans—standard pro-mascot arguments. Then, at a designated point, the host, Jason Jones, would ask, “Would you say all of this stuff directly to a Native American?” To which they’d presumably say, “Yes,” and then Jones would cue us to enter. The panel would be embarrassed, we’d be indignant, they’d be on their way—appropriately uncomfortable—and then we’d get our chance to talk.


After a long wait in an adjacent green room, completely cut off visually and aurally from the pro-Redskins panel, we were finally asked in. We entered the room, looked indignant, and there was a wonderfully uncomfortable silence. Jones played the buffoon, eating some wings and drinking a beer. But then, one of the pro-mascot fellas started to defend their position, and everything derailed. This is the part you don’t really see in its full glory on the segment: As some of the anti-mascot activists started in passionately on the issue, pro-mascot panelist Kelli O’Dell, who was previously employed by the Washington Redskins and whose Internet presence is devoted to her support of the team and mascot, started to cry. My ever-dapper 1491s colleague, Bobby Wilson, offered her his own handkerchief. It was an intense situation, but never mean-spirited. O’Dell, though, started to accuse us of ambushing and lying and “how dare you.” (Later, after the shoot but before the episode aired, it would be reported by the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Time, Gawker, Uproxx, Buzzfeed and CBS that she felt in danger and this experience would smear her name.)

Sobbing and accusatory, she and the others left. From there, we took a break to reset the room, and we did our panel. This one went incredibly well and I’m proud to have been a part of it. The producer, crew and Jones were wonderful to us, and we all walked out of there with hugs and smiles. It was 180 degrees from the previous panel, and we were happy about it.

The next morning, football Sunday, the three of us went to FedEx Field as part of the show. “The Daily Show” taped us wandering around the “Redskins Nation” tailgate, though that never made it on air. I, rather naively, thought maybe we’d be able use our presence at the tailgate as a way to showcase our humanity, and let the Washington Team know that there are Native Americans out there who are among them—real people not relegated to the eternal myth of history. Maybe we’d change a mind or two. Or, at least, maybe some ignorant hilarity could be caught on camera. It was worth a try, so with a camera crew following us, one little, two little and a third big Indian struck out into FedEx Field’s Redskin Nation tailgate.

That did not go as I’d hoped.

There were points during that hour-long experience where I actually was afraid for my life. I have never been so blatantly threatened, mocked or jeered. It was so intense, so full of vitriol that none of the footage ended up being used in the segment. I’m a big dude—6’1”, and a lotta meat on the bones. But a blonde little wisp of a girl completely freaked me out as I waited in line for the bathroom. “Is that shirt supposed to be funny?” she asked motioning to my satirical “Caucasians” T-shirt. And then she said, “I’ll fucking cut you.” Actually, she didn’t scare me so much as the wannabe linebackers standing behind her who looked like they wanted to make good on her threat.

On one level, I get it. I’m walking around with an ironic T-shirt on, being a Native in the middle of FedEx Field with a camera crew from “The Daily Show” nearby. But amid the jeers, mocking and threats, did I cry, and accuse them of ambush? No, because I knew what I was getting myself into. It’s “The Daily Show.” I know the format. More than that though, I didn’t back down or break down because I knew in my heart and conscience I was doing the right thing, as silly as the method may have been.

I think back to the tailgate: the man blowing cigar smoke in my face, the man who mockingly yelled, “Thanks for letting us use your name!”, the group who yelled at us to “go the fuck home,” the little waif who threatened to cut me, the dude who blew the train horn on his truck as I walked by the hood. I think of all of that, and I think back to O’Dell crying and trying desperately to get out of the room full of calm Natives. I thought she was crying because she was caught unawares and was afraid. But I realized that was her defense mechanism, and that by overly dramatizing her experience, she continued to trivialize ours. It was privilege in action. And as I realized these things, something else became incredibly clear: She knew she was wrong.

Watch “The Daily Show” segment here:

Legislation Would Deny Funding To Schools With Unauthorized Native American Mascots




DENVER (CBS4) – Schools that use nicknames based on Native American names or imagery must seek tribes’ permission or lose funding under a bill proposed by a Colorado lawmaker.

Joseph Salazar, a House Democrat from Thornton, said the measure will help get rid of unauthorized mascots at Colorado’s public schools.

“There are people out there who still reside in the world of ignorance or who still reside in the world of being very stubborn,” Salazar said.

He said mascots like the Savages of Lamar High School on the state’s eastern plains are offensive.

A meeting to address the issue will be held at the Denver Indian Family Resource Center on Morrison Road on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.

The issues has flared lately on the national level because of the Washington Redskins nickname in the NFL.

Under the legislation, schools like Arapahoe High School in Littleton Public Schools would be exempt because they sought permission.

Arapahoe High School in Littleton sought permission to use Native American imagery. (credit: CBS)
Arapahoe High School in Littleton sought permission to use Native American imagery. (credit: CBS)


“Legislation doesn’t really change attitudes. Instead it changes behavior,” Salazar said. “You want to continue using your racist and your stereotypical imagery? Then we don’t have to fund that.”

A board member of the Colorado Indian Education Foundation says Indian-themed mascots portray Native Americans in a negative light.

“It doesn’t allow for young people or Americans to actually see Indian people are contributors, as contemporary people,” Darius Smith said.

Salazar said he believes there are almost 40 schools in Colorado with an American Indian theme.

“This should be a positive and we’re asking people to open up communication with each other and that should be a natural thing to do,” he said.

The superintendent of the Lamar School District did not immediately return a call for comment.


The 2,128 Native American Mascots People Aren’t Talking About


Illustration by Kelsey Dake
Illustration by Kelsey Dake

By Hayley Munguia,

When Samuel Henry was a kid growing up in D.C. in the late 1950s, he and his friends were devoted Washington Redskins fans — they had the jerseys and knew the lore. And as the lore had it, the “reddish-brown tint” of paint on the team’s downtown D.C. headquarters came from the blood of Native Americans. “When I was a kid, me and my friends, we really thought that they had captured and killed Native Americans and pasted them all over the building,” Henry said. “We were just kids, we didn’t know any better. But we really, honestly believed that.”

Now, almost 60 years later, the Redskins are enmeshed in a debate about whether their name is a racist epithet and should be changed. Advocates for keeping the name reference its origins: In 1937, owner George Preston Marshall changed the team name from the Braves to the Redskins. Marshall said the change was in honor of the head coach at the time, William Henry Dietz, who claimed to be part Sioux (although that claim is suspect). Critics including Henry say its origins are irrelevant and that the name is racist and demeaning. “I’d love to see a boycott of all things Redskins,” he said.

Dan Snyder, the current owner, purchased the team in 1999, when it was fighting its first legal battle over the name. The lawsuits have continued, and earlier this year, the Trademark Trials and Appeal Board canceled the franchise trademark because “a substantial composite of Native Americans found the term Redskins to be disparaging.” Snyder has faced mounting pressure to change the name, even from President Obama and George Preston Marshall’s granddaughter. But Snyder plans to appeal the trademark decision and says he will “NEVER” change the name. Polling suggests Snyder has the backing to ignore the calls; most NFL fans (and Redskins fans in particular) oppose a name change.

What’s considered an outrage in the NFL is embraced or at least tolerated all over the country. While we’ve been consumed by the debate about the Washington Redskins, we’ve overlooked thousands of team names and mascots depicting Native Americans, often stereotypically. These teams are not feeling the kind of pressure that Snyder is. To understand the Washington Redskins, we have to understand the Estelline Redmen, the Natick Redmen, and the Molalla Indians, too.

Terry Borning, the proprietor of MascotDB, has kept a database of the nation’s mascots since 2006. He gathers his data from a variety of sources, including state high school athletic associations, websites and local newspapers. Borning’s database doesn’t have every high school, college and pro team in the country, but it does have 42,624 of them. Looking at MascotDB is as close as we can get to understanding how prevalent Native American team names and mascots are across the country.

“There were a lot of interesting mascots where I lived growing up,” Borning said. “But those have mostly fallen by the wayside. Some of those things of the past were definitely offensive, but also more interesting than the generic mascots we have now.”

I searched the database and found 2,129 sports teams that reference Braves, Chiefs, Indians, Orangemen, Raiders, Redmen, Reds, Redskins, Savages, Squaws, Tribe and Warriors, as well as tribe names such as Apaches, Arapahoe, Aztecs, Cherokees, Chickasaws, Chinooks, Chippewas, Choctaws, Comanches, Eskimos, Mohawks, Mohicans, Seminoles, Sioux and Utes. (Not all teams with the names “Raiders” and “Warriors” are referencing Native Americans, but we spot-checked 20 schools with each name and a majority of each did.)


Some 92 percent of those 2,129 team names belong to high schools (the rest were college, semi-pro, pro and amateur league teams). Of all the active high schools in the database, 8.2 percent have Native American team names.


I reached out to about a dozen of those high schools, and most didn’t want to comment on a controversy that hadn’t yet arrived. But the conversations I did have suggested that the way communities regard their teams’ Native American names and mascots depends on the makeup of the communities themselves.

Estelline High, home of the Redmen, is located in a small town in South Dakota, 24 miles west of the Minnesota border. South Dakota has the third-largest Native American population share in the country, but Estelline hasn’t seen the kinds of protests directed at the Washington Redskins. The town has experienced little, if any, controversy over the Redmen name.

The mascot dates back to sometime between 1915 and 1920, when a local newspaper referred to the Estelline athletic team by the color of its uniforms — “the men in red.” The name wasn’t officially adopted, but the team soon became known by its unofficial moniker, the Redmen. According to Estelline superintendent and high school principal Patrick Kraning, the association with Native Americans didn’t come until around 1930. Estelline followed with its own depiction of a “Redman” as a stereotype of a Native American chief wearing a headdress. Events such as the annual naming of a “Moon Princess” and “Big Chief” at homecoming became part of the tradition.

“There’s been very little controversy over the team name,” Kraning said. “In the ’90s there was some discussion about changing the name for a series of schools [throughout southeastern South Dakota] that still referred to themselves as ‘Redmen.’ But in the end, a lot of us — Estelline included — decided to keep the name and just keep away from any Native American imagery associated with it.”

Since then, the only symbol associated with the Estelline Redmen is a logo of an E with two feathers attached. Kraning believes that this change, combined with the fact that Estelline doesn’t have a significant Native American population, is why there hasn’t been much local debate on the topic.

“There’s a community feeling that since the origin of the nickname was not a Native American reference, there’s not a desire for change,” he said. “If there were a discussion, most people would probably view it as going against 80 or 90 years of tradition.”

Natick, Massachusetts, did go against tradition. In 2007, the school board dropped its high school mascot — also the “Redmen” — after an alumna of Native American descent came to the board and said she was offended by the activities surrounding the team she had experienced at Natick High School. The historian for the local Nipmuc tribe told me that the logo and mascot used by the school depicted a “stereotypical northern Native with a headdress,” but that depiction bore no resemblance to the actual indigenous people who lived in the Natick area. Nevertheless, protest groups soon sprouted up, claiming that the Natick Redmen honored Native Americans and were an important tradition.

Soon after the change, school board meetings and a town-wide referendum turned the issue into a much broader discussion. The main critique came from the Redmen Forever Committee, a self-described grassroots effort that sought to influence the non-binding referendum. “We added a question to the referendum asking if townspeople wanted the Redmen name restored,” said Erich Thalheimer, co-founder of the Redmen Forever Committee. “It won overwhelmingly, but the school committee didn’t abide by the town’s wishes.”

“If it were decided by popular vote, we would have the name,” said Anne Blanchard, a member of the Natick School Board. “But we had to take into account our nondiscrimination policy, as well as minority and majority interests.”

The Redmen Forever Committee says it won’t give up the fight. “We chose the name of our committee very intentionally, very purposefully,” Thalheimer said. “This is our town. We’re going to live here until we die. We will forever try to re-establish the Redmen name.”

While the controversy in Natick stemmed from a decision that affected one school, several states have taken a grievance from a single school and used it to forbid Native American mascots. One of the more sweeping bans so far was implemented with the help of Samuel Henry, the man who grew up earnestly believing that the Washington Redskins had painted their downtown D.C. headquarters with the blood of Native Americans. Henry is currently the chair of Oregon’s Board of Education, which instituted a statewide ban on Native American mascots and team names in 2012.

The story goes back to 2006, when Che Butler, a member of the Siletz tribe and a student at Taft High School, raised the issue before the board. Butler said he was offended by the stereotypical and inauthentic manner in which the mascot of a rival school, the Molalla Indians, portrayed Native Americans. He and fellow Taft student Luhui Whitebear, a member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Tribe, made a presentation at a board meeting asking for a statewide ban on mascots that “misrepresent” Native people, who instead “should be represented with true honor and respect.”

According to Henry, the board agreed that “having Native American mascots did not seem like a good idea,” but decided to defer the decision.

The grievance was taken up again six years later, when the director of public instruction decided to put it back on the board’s agenda. This time around, after some member turnover, the board agreed to ask its chief attorney to draft a proposal for a ban on the use of Native American mascots in public schools. The only dissenting vote came from a woman who claimed that it was too selective, and that devils and saints should be banned as well.

As in Natick, one of the major arguments against the ban came from people who said that the mascots didn’t disparage Native Americans, but honored them. Many of these opponents knew little of Native American culture, Henry said. “I asked one of the students who made that argument what the name of the local Native American tribe was, and she didn’t know,” he said. “To me, that indicated that her reliance on saying that they were honoring Native Americans — that the support for that argument was pretty thin at best.”

For high schools, a statewide ban is about as sweeping as it gets. Graduate to the next level, though, and schools have broader authorities to answer to. In 2005, the NCAA implemented its own de facto ban1 on Native American mascots for all NCAA colleges.2 The ban focused on a specific list of schools whose mascots were deemed “hostile or abusive,” and precluded them from participating in postseason play if those nicknames or mascots appeared on any team uniforms or clothing.

The NCAA had already taken a stand on a similar issue: the use of Confederate flags. In 2001, the organization banned arenas in South Carolina and Mississippi from hosting postseason championships because the Confederate flag flew proudly on their statehouse grounds. After that decision, the president of St. Cloud State University in Minnesota asked the NCAA to impose a ban on Native American mascots.

The NCAA called on 18 schools (out of 1,046 total member schools at the time, or 1.7 percent) to drop their mascots.

Not all of the targeted schools felt that their nicknames or mascots were “hostile or abusive,” and the ban was followed by a surge of criticism.

“I must have gotten 2,000 emails from people just complaining about it,” the NCAA’s executive committee chairperson at the time, Walter Harrison, said. Even almost 10 years later, he still remembers one persistent caller. “He, or she, I don’t know if it was a man or a woman, would call my office phone at four in the morning and just play their school’s chant until the answering machine cut off,” he said.

But the more serious backlash came in the form of appeals. One came from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and its Fighting Illini. The Fighting Illini were portrayed at halftime performances by a student dressed in full Lakota regalia, including face paint and a headdress. He went by the name “Chief Illiniwek,” and became the focus of the university’s fight against the ban.

Controversy surrounding Chief Illiniwek predated the NCAA’s ruling by decades. The university’s board of trustees had been quietly in the process of considering a potential mascot change since 2001, and the publicity surrounding the nationwide ban reignited already-existing tension among students and alumni. Lawrence Eppley, who was the chair of the university’s board of trustees at the time, said he received hundreds of comments from foundations and alumni organizations threatening to withhold donations. He and the rest of the board figured the only option was to strike a compromise to keep both sides — passionate students and alumni and the NCAA — happy.

Through its appeal, the school was allowed to keep its team name, but not its mascot. Chief Illiniwek portrayers, who had been a part of an official student organization called the Council of Chiefs, could continue the tradition as long as the group no longer had any official affiliation with the university. “One of the things that made it tough to retire it was making sure the fans knew that, if you loved the chief, that was nothing to feel guilty about,” Eppley said. “It’s just that times change, and there’s not much we can do about that.”

Ivan Dozier, who currently portrays Chief Illiniwek, said that officially retiring the mascot was the wrong way for the university to respond. He believes that Native American mascots are a way to reach and educate an audience that wouldn’t normally be knowledgeable about Native American culture or history. “What concerns me is if you eliminate all references to Native American culture, people aren’t asking questions anymore,” he said. “Sports fans here are the vocal majority. They’re the ones who need this information the most, and now they have no way to go about getting it.”

Eight of the schools on the NCAA’s list secured vocal support from local Native American tribes to successfully appeal and retain their team names and mascots. Eight others have changed their names and one dropped the use of a mascot entirely. Carthage College changed its team name from the Redmen to the Red Men and dropped all Native American imagery, which satisfied the NCAA’s requirements.



Turning the Washington Redskins into the Red Skins is unlikely to appease the team’s critics, though. Given that the name is racist by definition and no tribe has come out in support of Snyder, it probably wouldn’t pass the NCAA’s grounds for appeal, and it certainly doesn’t pass in the court of Native American opinion.

But even if the Redskins became the Red Skins or the Red Flyers or the Red Snyders, there would still be thousands of other teams that reference Native American imagery. Whatever happens with the Redskins, there will still be the Estelline Redmen, Chief Illiniwek, and the West Texas Comanches, each upholding the questionable legacy of Native American sports names.