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As Quincy and Braintree remove Native American mascots, critics say more must be done

A proposed new version of the "Yakoo" mascot for North Quincy High School is unveiled Monday, Aug. 3 by Quincy Mayor Thomas P. Koch, left, and Dr. Allan Yacubian.
A proposed new version of the "Yakoo" mascot for North Quincy High School is unveiled Monday, Aug. 3 by Quincy Mayor Thomas P. Koch, left, and Dr. Allan Yacubian.Lisa Aimola, Quincy Mayor’s Office

Advocates calling for the removal of Native American mascots praised recent actions in Quincy and Braintree to eliminate the symbols, but also said much more needs to be done to promote equity and justice for Native people.

Melissa Harding Ferretti, chairwoman and president of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, expressed hope that the schools would start to expand education about real Native American histories and cultures.

“It’s apparent that the message is getting through to people — Native American people are not cartoons or characters,” Harding Ferretti said in a phone interview. “I hope that this work with the mascots really opens the door for the curriculum to be considered for the schools.”

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On Aug. 3, a proposed revised mascot for North Quincy High School was unveiled by Mayor Thomas P. Koch. The new design retains the outline of “Yakoo” — a cartoon of a school benefactor Dr. Allan Yacubian used since the 1950s — but replaces the character’s stereotypical Native American costume with that of an American Colonist.

“Clearly, the old way had been offensive to some people,” Koch said in a phone interview. “At the end of the day, this new mascot removes anything offensive, and I think people — at least the people I’ve heard from — seem very comfortable and happy with the new image.”

In Braintree on Monday, the School Committee in a 6-1 vote approved a motion by Mayor Charles C. Kokoros that put an end to the high school’s use of a Native American man wearing a feathered headdress, according to a video of the meeting.

In both cities, thousands of supporters signed online petitions calling for an end to the mascots. However, while the schools’ logos changed, the nicknames did not. North Quincy remains the “Red Raiders” while Braintree has stuck with being called the “Wamps.”

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Advocates in both Quincy and Braintree said they’ll work to change the nicknames — and push to have ongoing conversations in their communities about why the changes are necessary.

Lauren Kaye, 22, who graduated from Braintree High School in 2016, called the School Committee’s measure a “half-step” in the right direction.

“We are going to keep pushing for a name change. That’s our focus right now,” Kaye said. “The big thing surrounding the mascot is working with the town to promote education about why the change was made.”

Such imagery has been widely criticized by Native American tribes and advocates for promoting harmful stereotypes of Native people as violent warrior figures. It overshadows the lives and cultures of real-life Native people living in Massachusetts, Harding Ferretti and other advocates have said.

Harding Ferretti said she has been surprised by the amount of support behind efforts to eliminate Native American mascots and nicknames. “I was applauding the youth who have been speaking to their towns and their schools,” she said.

Similar drives to end mascots are underway in Millis, Tewksbury, and Winchester. In Melrose, a group called Change the Name is working to eliminate the use of the high school’s “Red Raiders” nickname.

“This practice is harmful to Native and non-Native students and undermines our values as a diverse and welcoming community,” the Melrose group said on its Facebook page.

In Braintree, School Committee chairman Thomas Devin said in a brief phone interview that the committee was “leading by example” with its decision to drop its mascot. “The imagery is gone, it’s a new day,” Devin said.

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In the video of the Braintree School Committee meeting Monday, some members, including Karla Psaros, said the district needed to change the “Wamps” nickname as well.

“I fully believe that taking away the imagery, and not the name, is doing things halfway,” Psaros said during the meeting.

Gigi Wong, 20, a 2018 graduate of North Quincy High School, criticized her city’s mayor for proposing a change to the school’s mascot without working with students and alumni who raised concerns about both “Yakoo” — and larger issues of racial justice and equity.

“The biggest problem was that we were not included in the decision-making process,” Wong said. “By doing that, [Koch] can easily sweep these issues under the rug.”

Robert Shaw, the North Quincy principal, said in an e-mail he intends to involve students in his part of decision-making on the proposed mascot and the nickname.

Wong said she and other advocates are now working with members of Quincy’s School Committee to form focus groups with students and community members to discuss racial justice and other concerns.

Koch, who doubles as chairman of the Quincy School Committee, said he would support organizing focus groups with students and community members to address racial issues in the city’s schools.

School administrators are taking the matter seriously and are reviewing the complaints, he said.

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“Racism comes in many forms, and we want students at every age to be comfortable in our school system, so that they have an opportunity to learn and succeed in life,” Koch said. “And we want an environment that is safe and respectful to everybody.”

Tina Hoang, 16, a current student at North Quincy High, said changing the mascot is important because it gets rid of racist imagery that was supposed to represent the school.

It is also “one of the first steps to make Quincy more inclusive and comfortable for POC,” she said, using an acronym for “people of color.”

In Quincy, controversy over the “Yakoo” mascot stretched back decades.

Edmund Grogan, a retired Quincy social studies teacher, mounted a campaign beginning in the 1980s to eliminate the mascot. On Monday, he said in a phone interview he was very happy that the school had finally dumped the mascot’s original design.

Grogan, 77, who taught at both North Quincy High School and Atlantic Middle School, publicly complained about the logo and was part of a committee that studied the issue in the early 1990s.

A superintendent at the time agreed with Grogan and banned the mascot from the school, but was overruled in 1991 with a vote by the city’s School Committee. The US Department of Education spent four years reviewing the school’s mascot before determining in 1995 that the image was offensive, but the agency’s Office for Civil Rights said the school could keep it.

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Grogan praised the work of students and graduates who successfully petitioned Koch and other city leaders to make the change. But the city’s schools still need to address the racism that was behind the mascot, he said.

“It’s been proven that it hurts,” Grogan said. “Why did it take so damn long?”


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.