Efforts to ban the use of Native American-themed school mascots have divided Massachusetts communities. Now, a measure introduced in the state Legislature is likely to rekindle the debate.
State Senator Barbara L’Italien, acting on behalf of 11 Tewksbury constituents, filed a bill last week that could ban Native American references in a public school’s team name, logo, or mascot.
Last year, Tewksbury officials rejected a push to change the name of the town’s high school mascot, the Redmen, after critics said it was offensive toward Native American culture.
“If the Tewksbury School Committee refuses to consider the implications of a race-based mascot, then perhaps the Legislature will,” said Laura Harrington, a bill supporter who has a freshman at Tewksbury Memorial High School.
Those who want to retain the mascot name deny it’s derogatory.
“I think the people that want the change are removed from what these names really mean and would be doing greater harm than good,” said Michael Colameta, who is an administrator for a Facebook group called “Redmen . . . Here to Stay. “Never once had Tewksbury done anything to degrade anything that it stood for.”
Tewksbury school officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Other districts and schools could be affected if the bill passes, including the Billerica Memorial High School Indians, Masconomet Chieftains, the Pentucket Sachems, and the Taconic Braves.
At North Quincy High, the mascot Yakoo is a caricature of an angry Native American man gripping a spear.
Natick decided to drop “Redmen” as its high school mascot in 2008 after a community discussion.
The National Congress of American Indians believes that such characterizations are harmful, especially for youths, the group’s executive director, Jaqueline Pata, said Wednesday.
Although she filed the measure in the Senate, L’Italien would not say in a statement whether she supports it.
“One of my jobs as a state senator is to help constituents get the issues they care about before the Legislature. ... The lead sponsor is not me but was actually one of my constituents,” the Andover Democrat said in the statement. “I’m happy to make sure this group – and those who oppose the bill – have an opportunity to debate this idea in a public hearing.”