Published: 11/2/2020 1:54:38 PM
Modified: 11/2/2020 1:54:30 PM
ATHOL — Twenty-two years ago, an attempt by the principal of Athol High School to move away from the caricature of a Native America as the representative of the school’s athletic teams caused a commotion in town. It was 1998, and then-principal Randi Shenkman, without any fanfare, began removing signs around the school that included the cartoonish, scowling, tomahawk-wielding “Indian,” the symbol of the Athol High School Red Raiders.
Vocal community opposition to the move motivated Shenkman to relent in her efforts.
This Wednesday, a public hearing will be held remotely to discuss the possibility of jettisoning the Red Raider name and logo once and for all.
Athol Royalston Regional School District Superintendent Darcy Fernandes, an African American, has spent much of her life battling racial insensitivity and stereotyping. In an exchange of emails with the Athol Daily News, Fernandes said she thinks it’s time a change was made. “It’s not anyone’s place to decide for the indigenous people of our nation what is offensive and what is not when it comes to their culture,” she began. “It is their right to make this decision. I’m fully in support of the removal of the Native American mascot. The intolerance and harm promoted by these ‘Indian’ sports mascots, logos, or symbols, have very real consequences for Native people.”
Fernandes said Native Americans do not see the names and logos as respectful, and they are certainly not complimentary.
“Specifically,” she said, “rather than honoring Native peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuate negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples, and contribute to a disregard for the personhood of Native peoples.
“As documented in a comprehensive review of decades of social science research, derogatory ‘Indian’ sports mascots have serious psychological, social and cultural consequences for Native Americans, especially Native youth. Of today’s American Indian and Alaska Native population, those under the age of 18 make up 32 percent, and Native youth under the age of 24 represent nearly half, or 42 percent, of the entire Native population.”
She argued that the stereotypes perpetuated by sports logos lead some to target Native Americans for violence.
“Most concerning in considering negative stereotypes of Native people,” said Fernandes, “are the alarmingly high rates of hate crimes against Native people. According to a Department of Justice analysis: ‘American Indians are more likely that people of other races to experience violence at the hands of someone of a different race.’”
She concluded by saying, “These factors together indicate a very real need to take immediate action in a number of areas, including the removal of harmful images, as well as the education of the general public, to diffuse additional hateful activity against Native peoples.”
Asked if she is concerned that, given the political and racial divisions extant in the country, raising this issue at this time could lead to more division in the community, Fernandes said the issue needs to be confronted, regardless of the political climate.
“The issue has been raised by community members,” she explained. “In this current climate, it appears that communities need to see action to feel as if the America they are a part of is open to a new way of doing business. The tension has come from a lack of movement. We will not see the tension subside until actions are taken to show that life will be different.”
Wednesday’s remote meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. For information, call the main district office at 978-249-2400.
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