The Siren School Board faced backlash from the Native American community after denying a motion that would work towards ending the use of Native American symbols and mascots in Wisconsin schools.
This motion being sent state-wide originated from the Wausau school board. Their board recommended that lawmakers introduce a new legislation that ends the use of mascots that can be seen as offensive and intolerable. Tricia Zunker, the president of the school board stated that this bill would protect students from culturally insensitive representations of indigenous people.
Zunker said, “It’s not OK to participate in stigmatization. Schools that retain these mascots, they’re really sending the wrong message.”
There are 421 school districts in Wisconsin and 31 of those districts are still using Native American mascots, symbols, images, logos or nicknames. As of August, 18 Wisconsin school districts have signed in favor of endorsing the resolution.
At the October Siren school board meeting, the board’s vote was 3-4, not giving enough votes to sign in favor of the resolution. This brought anger and disgust to Native Americans within the community. The Siren school district has approximately 473 students and at least 127 identify as being Native American. These numbers do not include the children in Head Start.
At the most recent board meeting, some members of the Native American community in Siren came to speak with the board about their decision and how it has affected them and the community they live in.
Katrina Decorah, a graduate from Siren High School told the board that she was very hurt and disgusted by their comments that they made during the last board meeting. Decorah was appalled that Susie Imme, a school board member, did not know the history behind blackface and the racist meaning it holds. Most of the schools that still support Native American mascots lacks education on the history behind the Native people that they are supposedly honoring. She said that the board is supposed to speak for all students.
“Based on what was said and your actions, I don’t feel comfortable that you have the students’ of color best interest at heart.”
To Mark Pettis, another member of the school board, Decorah stated that his opinions of the Osceola school district should not be more important than the Siren Native students that he is supposed to be representing. She does not feel comfortable that he sits on the school board and has the Native’s best interest at heart.
“Your (school board’s) words turned into something completely ugly and brought hate and anger to our community. Your actions affect everybody in this community, I hope you don’t forget that,” was Decorah’s ending statement to the board members.
Melissa Fowler was the next person to speak to the board- her husband is a St. Croix Tribal Council Member. She said she was happy that so many Native people showed up at the board meeting to speak on their own behalf. She said what happened at the last board meeting was disgusting. It created a large division in the community- it has become Natives against non-Natives.
“If I don’t see significant progress soon, besides I’m sorry, I’m going to urge parents and I’m going to urge tribe members to stop investing in this community because it is wrong.”
Butler stated that the fact that the board made their decision without even speaking to their own Native students and community members was absolutely disgraceful.
“How can our kids thrive in a school environment where they don’t even feel that they can trust their own staff anymore? They can’t trust the school board because you guys are not making the decisions in the best interest of them.”
Another Native member that spoke to the board was a current senior at the Siren High School. He is graduating this year with his twin sister and 15 other indigenous students.
“I just want to say I am disgusted by this. You guys are doing very outdated racist things, that’s not how I want my senior year to start or end.”
After the public comments were completed, Imme spoke on behalf of herself and not of the board on her decision at the previous board meeting. She told the Natives in attendance that after receiving feedback of their decision, she wanted to learn more. Imme said that the resolution does not directly affect the Siren school district- They do not have a Native American mascot and she does not believe that school districts should be legislated by other school districts.
Imme said that if changing their mascot was up for discussion, then she would want all of the residents, current students, alumni and the district have the right to decide. She then agreed with Fowler that nobody was consulted, and they should have been. Everybody should have a voice.
In her research, Imme learned that not all Native Americans are united in opposition to mascots as long as it is done in a respectful and tasteful manner.
“Clearly there are derogatory terms that should never be used. Many Native Americans believe that banning all Native imaging is a missed opportunity for culture exchange and education.” She brought along with her some supporting information if anyone in the room wanted to look at it.
Imme then ended by saying that the Native American students are underrepresented on the board and she urges the Native American community to seek board positions.
During the president’s report, Peggy Moore gave a statement on behalf of the school district. There was a public request to the board that a board member be removed from office, but Moore said that school boards do not have any authority under Wisconsin law to remove a board member. They can only be removed by a court or legal cause.
She then stated that because of the negative feedback, the board directed Dr. Shetler, the district’s superintendent, to get more information on the mascot resolution and he will be providing the board members with packets of information to study. The resolution will be brought back up at a policy meeting at a later date.