Kali photo Christopher Johnson
In our area Seymour High School, above, was nicknamed the “Indians” for decades before changing the name to “Thunder” in 1992. Now, the Green Bay School District has joined numerous other Wisconsin school districts in calling for the end of race-based mascots.
The Green Bay School Board voted unanimously to support legislation calling for the end of Native American mascots in Wisconsin during a Special Board Meeting September 11. The move makes the Green Bay School District the latest in Wisconsin to support the legislation that was introduced by the Wausau School District. The legislation will now go to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards where it will be decided if it should be put to a statewide vote in January.
“We applaud Green Bay School Board members Rhonda Sitnikau and Kristina Shelton for their efforts to bring this issue to the Board of Education for consideration,” Oneida Nation Vice Chairman Brandon Stevens said. “Resolutions in opposition to the use of racial mascots have been passed by all Native American Nations in Wisconsin, by the Great Lakes Intertribal Council as a body, by the National Congress of American Indians and numerous others expressing their opposition to the use of Native American images and names for sports teams.”
According to the Wausau School District’s legislation, the continued use of such mascots and symbols establishes an unwelcome, divisive, and hostile learning environment for Native students that affirms negative stereotypes that are promoted in mainstream society. The legislation further states that continued use of these mascots and images is a form of discrimination, oppression, and racism.
The contention that the use of such names honors those they depict is not true, Stevens said. “The adage is ‘we are honoring them’ when in fact it does not,” Stevens said. “When school districts honor other people, they do so most often by naming a school, a gymnasium, or a library after an individual. Honoring is not achieved by depicting a race of people in a stereotypical image. Honoring could occur through the curriculum where a true and honorable representation of Native individuals and their nations could be conveyed to the students. Honoring does not include war whoops, tomahawk chops, and other antics that accompany such mascots at sporting events.”
“I didn’t think I’d be around to see this,” Richie Plass, a Menominee Nation citizen and longtime advocate for this type of legislation, said. “I applaud everyone who has worked on this over the years, and I applaud all the support from the school boards.”
There are approximately 31 school districts in Wisconsin that still use Native American mascots, symbols, images, logos, or nicknames. Legislation calling for similar action has passed in several Wisconsin school districts in recent months, including Madison, Sun Prairie, and Milwaukee. Districts in Shawano, Eau Claire, Appleton and La Crosse have also signed on in recent weeks.