As we gather to commemorate a historic meal between Native Americans and the pilgrims, I think it’s an appropriate time to talk about the use of Native American mascots in sports and public schools.
In August, the Wausau School Board started a statewide resolution asking school districts to stop using Native American mascots and imagery.
The topic has been a nationwide story as well over the last couple of years. Teams like the Cleveland Indians in Major League Baseball have been in the news a lot. Their logo used to be the controversial Chief Wahoo, which was formerly retired from the team’s uniforms in 2019.
The Washington Redskins also use a controversial logo of an Indianhead. The team has said it stands for respect and integrity.
However, I don’t see any respect or integrity when a white guy shows up in exaggerated, stereotypical Native clothing and with a painted face to a football game.
These terms are not offensive to me, but I’m not the barometer (and neither are you) for what is and what is not offensive to a group of people, especially if they have been historically marginalized in our society.
I have a little experience with this logo/mascot stuff. The back of my varsity letterman jacket says “Falls Indians” for my alma matter Menomonee Falls High School. Our mascot up until about 2005 was an Indianhead similar to the Redskins logo. It was replaced with a letter F with feathers hanging from it, although the nickname Indians remain.
Funny side note: I thought it would be a good idea to change the school nickname to the F and feathers. The administration thought it was “inappropriate” because the student section at sporting events may chant things like “Let’s go F’ing feathers!”
The Menomonee Falls school board is now trying to figure out if/how to get rid of the mascot.
That community was, and is still today, overwhelmingly white with no noticeable Native American community. It’s easy for a group of people that all look and think the same to believe something is not offensive or doesn’t need a second opinion.
According to the 2010 census, the Village of Menomonee Falls had a population of just over 35,500 people with about 96% white people and the other 4% is a mix of minority groups. Burnett County had just under 15,500 people with almost 5% of the population defining as American Indian.
This community has a unique voice on this topic that is discerningly low in this country. I can think of no better time than now to do our best to listen to that voice.
If the Native American population stands up to say these things are offensive to us - the least, and I mean the absolute least, we can do is hear their point of view on this topic.
Jonathan Richie is the editor of the Burnett County Sentinel. He can be reached at 715-463-2341 or email, email@example.com.