Should the state adopt legislation banning the use of Native American symbols as mascots?
Melrose resident, mother of two children in the Melrose public schools
I wholeheartedly support the bill to ban Native American mascots in Massachusetts public schools. Google the phrase “Native American mascot controversy,” and you will find an abundance of information on how race-based mascots harm us all.
According to decades of social science research, for Native youth, mascots contribute to low self-esteem, poor academic performance, and hostile school environments. For non-Natives, they promote a false understanding of indigenous culture, normalize insensitive behaviors, and make those exposed more likely to internalize stereotypes of other minorities.
The National Congress of American Indians has been fighting to end the use of Native mascots since the 1960s. Well over 100 tribal, government, education, professional, and religious groups have condemned this practice, including the Massachusetts Teachers Association, National Education Association, US Commission on Civil Rights, and the American Psychological Association.
As stereotypes, mascots do not accurately represent Native people, nor do they honor them. Mascots gloss over ugly truths of American history. The reality is that over the last 500 years, Native people have been victims of European diseases, land theft, slavery, forced relocation, military occupation, and cultural oppression.
Even so, America’s First People are still here. They are still fighting for their land, for the truthful telling of their history, and for their very identity.
In the name of school spirit, we cheer on the Red Raiders of Melrose, Sachems of Winchester, and Redmen of Tewksbury. To the Natives among us, these words and associated images are painful reminders of their historical trauma and of the limited ways that others see them.
Mascots are cartoons, not people. Myths, not history. Instead of teaching our children to embrace fictional mascots, let’s teach them to embrace real Native people. Let’s learn their history, empathize with their painful past, and support them in reclaiming their languages, lands, and traditions.
These stereotypes would never be acceptable for any other ethnic minority in this country. Superintendents and school committees who have been confronted with this issue fear community backlash and so fail to take a stand. Issues of civil rights should never be decided in the court of public opinion. If our school districts won’t do the right thing, then the Massachusetts Legislature should.
By all measures, America is the world’s largest Native-based democracy and Massachusetts is its heart. Indeed, no other state is both named for a tribe and features a proud Algonquin warrior on both its seal and flag.
That historic connection is also reflected in the many schools that use Native American images for their logos and team nicknames. To disrupt that tradition by barring the use of those symbols would be harmful and wrong.
We created the first, federally recognized fraternal order — the Improved Order of Red Men — honoring the Native Americans who contributed to our nation’s founding. Colonial troops beat the better-armed Redcoats by adapting to warrior-style fighting so effective it provided the DNA for today’s US Rangers.
Native Americans were present at the very birth of our nation. A delegation of Iroquois leaders came in friendship and unity to meet with colonial leaders deliberating over the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Decades before, the great Iroquois Chief Canasatego called upon the American colonies to follow the traditions of his own people by uniting into a single confederation.
Once the US won independence, we again looked to our Native allies. A 1988 Congressional resolution acknowledged that the confederation of the original 13 colonies and the Constitution were both influenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy.
Those who don’t know this history but think changing names makes sense are part of the problem. And this problem persists with recent efforts to deconstruct, divide, and demean our long-standing school traditions. These advocates are rewriting history while simultaneously impugning those native leaders who called for a friendship which, as the Iroquois put it in 1776, would “continue as long as the sun shall shine.”
We can only recover as a nation if we celebrate our shared history – blemishes and all. Tewksbury Redmen not only reinforces our proud culturally diverse history, but produces ambassadors of native culture and tradition.
Turning back 2017’s cultural erosion must include promoting, not contracting, native honorifics and philosophies as core elements of our schools. We shouldn’t have to defend one school but instead, we should be making the case to expand knowledge understanding and unity.