Published: 11/13/2020 8:32:16 AM
The Athol Royalston Regional School Committee made the right decision when it voted last week to retire the high school’s “Red Raider” mascot.
That vote includes the removal of a caricature of a scowling Native American man, who wears a Plains Indian headdress while wielding a tomahawk and spear. How does that cartoonish image represent a teenage boy or girl playing soccer, basketball or on any of Athol High School teams?
“Using indigenous people as mascots is dehumanizing,” Brittney Walley, a representative of the Nipmuc Tribe, said at last week’s School Committee meeting,
Some time ago, high schools, colleges and even professional sports team thought it was OK to use Indians as sports mascots.
Certainly, school districts in our area did. But one by one, these educational institutions have dropped them despite resistance from some alumnae and others.
Frontier Regional replaced “Redskins” with “Red Hawks” in 1997. Twenty years later, Turners Falls High School’s teams went from being called the “Indians” to “Thunder.”
Last year, the Mohawk Trail Regional School Committee voted to remove a large mural of a Plains Indian on its gym wall, but kept its “Warriors” name. Many people, including alumnae, claimed the historically inaccurate image on the school’s gym wall and elsewhere was actually a tribute to Native Americans.
Now, the school refers to itself as Mohawk Trail, a compromise we feel, in reference to the highway that runs nearby, instead of simply Mohawk. Hence, the high school teams are the “Warriors” instead of the “Mohawk Warriors.”
For those public schools hanging onto team names, logos or mascots that refer to Native Americans, bills are making their way through the state Legislature to prohibit that practice. Currently, well over 30 public schools in our state still use Indian mascots.
This was not the first time Athol High School’s mascot came under scrutiny. Twenty-two years ago, the American Indian Movement approached the School Committee about the “Red Raider” mascot. Then-principal Randi Shenkman was removing signs around school that contained that image until community members expressed their opposition.
This time, the process was different with a local task force that focused on having the mascot and team name retired, noting they don’t “reflect our school’s defined core values of respect, integrity and excellence.”
Certainly, recent demonstrations following high profile deaths such as George Floyd have increased awareness and promoted more discussion about racial discrimination.
Simply put, a group of people of any race should not be a school’s mascot.
And certainly the School Committee’s decision could be an educational opportunity as Athol High adopts a new one.
“The intolerance and harm promoted by these ‘Indian’ sports mascots, logos, or symbols have very real consequences for Native people,” said Athol Royalston Regional School District Superintendent Darcy Fernandes, who told a reporter that as African American, she has experienced racial insensitivity and stereotyping.
School Committee Chair Lee Chauvette, an Athol High School alum, admitted he opposed removing the Red Raider symbol in the late ‘90s. “Obviously, I was younger and not so wise, but now is the time to do the right thing,” he said.
And that’s exactly what the Athol Royalston Regional School Committee did when it voted 8-0 last week to retire the mascot and seek another, more appropriate representative for its student athletes.
Credit: Source link