What’s in a name? For many people, possible answers to that question include frustration, resentment and oppression.
The Menomonie school board on Monday approved a resolution to ban all Native American mascots, symbols, images, nicknames and titles from Wisconsin’s public schools.
“When we think about what rights we have for laying claim to culture and identity, if you look at the mascots, they’re blatant,” said board member Chris Freeman in a story by Travis Nyhus of the Dunn County News. “They display Native Americans as savages ... spear chuckers.”
Jim Swanson, also a board member, agreed: “People have realized in history the way native people have been treated in the United States that these mascots are wrong and they need to be dealt with and we’re being asked to help with that process.”
The Wausau school board launched the resolution effort. Criticism of the measure included concerns about local control and the danger of time and resources being taken away from local issues. The Menomonie school board passed it by a 4-2 vote.
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Under a state law that’s since been reworked, Osseo-Fairchild dropped its “Chieftains” nickname in 2010. Menomonie did the same with “Indians” about eight years ago.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, there remain around 31 public schools out of more than 400 in Wisconsin that use Native American terms and images for their names, mascots and/or logos.
“Wisconsin has reached a point where we have to do away with these vestiges of anti-Native American thinking,” Milwaukee public school board vice president Tony Baez told the Journal Sentinel. “As school boards, we have to do away with these symbols of what has been culturally an overtaking and general dismissing of Native Americans.”
Tricia Zunker, president of the Wausau school board and a Ho-Chunk tribe member who serves on its Supreme Court, echoed that sentiment.
“If you are a school that respects diversity, you’re not going to have these mascots that are culturally abusive,” she said. “This is about educating our students, whether they’re Native American or not Native American.
“This is about ensuring that we don’t have a hostile learning environment.”
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Several of the Wisconsin public schools that still have such mascots and nicknames are located in western Wisconsin. They include the Baldwin-Woodville Blackhawks. A photo on the district’s website shows a sign from last year’s homecoming that reads, “Fear the Spear.”
At the professional level, the Cleveland Indians have begun to shed their former primary mascot — a cartoonish Chief Wahoo — but the Washington Redskins continue to champion a nickname that’s difficult to defend.
The pride someone may have in a mascot or nickname simply doesn’t outweigh the cost of people being offended by it. As fans, our support is more for a franchise or school than in its symbols.
And schools, their supporters and students ultimately survive such transitions, as evidenced by the Osseo-Fairchild Thunder and Menomonie Mustangs.
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor