Brad Lopes II, a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), felt confused when he learned that a local news outlet had reported that his tribe was officially in support of an Indigenous American mascot and logo, depicting the profile of an Indigenous person, at Dartmouth High School. Its student sports teams are commonly called the “Indians.”
Lopes thought the news report was wrong because he knew that there’s been an ongoing effort in Dartmouth to rid the public school of the mascot portraying an Indigenous person. Not to mention that there’s been growing national awareness of how damaging Native American imagery in sports and popular culture is. Notoriously, the NFL’s Washington team dropped its racist name following years of pressure.
“The Wampanoag tribe feels this way?” said Lopes, referring to the tribe’s alleged support of the mascot. “Wait, I am part of the tribe and I don’t feel that way.” So Lopes, a public school teacher who was born in New Bedford and now resides in Maine, got involved.
As it turns out, there are some prominent Indigenous Americans who support the school’s logo. And Lopes wants the tribe to put the issue to debate among its members. The logo’s existence is already a hot-button issue in Dartmouth, where the town will face a nonbinding question in the April 5 ballot about whether to keep the mascot.
Is using an Indigenous American logo valid representation or blatant appropriation? Naturally, the answer lies in the eye of the beholder. But it matters who the beholder is. And it’s clear that the point of view of Native American tribes should rule above others’. The question is: Which tribes?
Sean Carney, a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag, spoke in favor of keeping the logo during a public community meeting this week to discuss the issue. He passionately described the logo not as a mascot, but as an honorable symbol.
“The issues related to the Indians name and symbol here are purely and uniquely a Dartmouth issue. . . . The Dartmouth Indians name and symbol is unifying, respectful, and pays homage to our Indigenous history,” said Carney, who spoke on behalf of roughly 20 tribal members — some of them graduates of Dartmouth High and town residents — who support the logo, including his uncle Clyde Andrews.
Plot twist: Andrews reportedly designed the logo. But others say it’s just a portrayal of the Eastern Woodlands Indian. Andrews’s sister is Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag and a Dartmouth High graduate. Last summer, Andrews-Maltais sent a letter to town officials in support of the logo, writing that “we do not wish to be erased from today’s contemporary life, society, or social existence.” Andrews-Maltais wrote that the original “reference to the ‘Dartmouth Indians’ was meant to be emblematic of our athletic abilities and excellence.”
But at least in the public meeting, Carney and his group were in the minority. Others spoke in favor of doing away with the logo, including members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. The public will have another chance to debate the question on March 22 at Dartmouth High School.
But even if the Dartmouth image is kept, it may be gone eventually. A bill cosponsored by Senator Joanne Comerford would ban indigenous mascots in public schools statewide. The legislation, widely supported by multiple Indigenous American tribes, sits in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Comerford’s office provided an unofficial count of roughly 30 schools in the state that have derogatory references to Native Americans in their logos, mascots, or nicknames. The New England Anti-Mascot Coalition tracks 23 such schools.
It’s clear this isn’t just a Dartmouth issue. Meanwhile, Lopes wants all members of the Aquinnah Wampanoag to formally discuss Indigenous mascots, which typically normalize a very narrow and culturally insensitive understanding of Native Americans.
Supporters’ arguments, Lopes said, are about “common buzzwords: heritage, history, honor, respect. There is this intermingling of nostalgia and memory with this symbol. But as an educator, I understand that when you see Indigenous people, especially in educational settings, we usually only see native people talked about or shown in a pre-19th century context.”
Indeed, the “Indian” moniker may trivialize the full history of the Indigenous experience, not much different from a bad Hollywood Western. There must be better ways to honor and uplift the contemporary richness of their culture and place in history.