The Harpoon Staff
The controversy over Dartmouth High School’s Indian mascot has become increasingly controversial, largely due to a bill introduced in the Massachusetts legislature to ban public schools from using any Native American team name, mascot, or logo. Over the years, people have disagreed whether or not the mascot should be changed at DHS. Opinions range from the mascot being an offensive and dehumanizing view towards American Indians, to those who believe it commemorates the original inhabitants of our country. The constant battle whether to keep tradition or replace the mascot remains divided.
Across the country, there has been an uptick in people speaking up for themselves or other groups of people who have been discriminated against or marginalized in society. In the Dartmouth Indians case specifically, many non-American Indian residents have been theorizing how Wampanoags feel about our mascot. However, nobody has asked tribal members if it’s specifically offensive to them.
As sophomore Jaeda Walker said, “People who are claiming it’s racist have no American Indian background.” Dartmouth residents are missing the Wampanoag perspective. How do they feel about our team mascot? Does our mascot offend them?
As chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah and DHS alumna Cheryl Andrews-Maltais said, “Ironically, the people complaining aren’t even natives.”
Ms. Andrews-Maltais was recently named Woman of the Year by National Indian Women.
In Massachusetts, the Wampanoag tribe consists of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is the closest federally recognized tribal group to Dartmouth. There hasn’t been a specific answer in decades as to whether actual tribal members find the Dartmouth Indian mascot offensive or not.
Cheryl Andrews-Maltais graduated from DHS in 1977. Ms. Andrews-Maltais’s family was on the town tribal board in Dartmouth, and she recalls they were the only Wampanoag Tribal members in the school. When Ms. Andrews-Maltais was a student, the old mascot was an inaccurate depiction of Wampanoags. The previous mascot was of a tribal Indian that originated from the South, rather than of a Wampanoag Indian. This led her family to request and then design the new mascot that is still used at DHS today.
In the mid 1970s, the school board took into consideration the incorrect representation, and replaced it with an accurate representation of a Wampanoag Tribe Indian. This was in an effort to correct and show respect to the authenticity of this tribe.
When Ms. Andrews-Maltais was a student at DHS, she felt honored and respected, rather than the opposite. “My family was being recognized for who we were. I took it with good spirits and didn’t find it offensive,” she said.
She also added, “If they are using stereotypical types of characters and music, then it becomes offensive.”
Other members of the Wampanoag Tribal group agree with Ms. Andrews-Maltais.
A member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Mashpee said, “I don’t find it offensive as long as it comes with respect. If it’s not making our name look bad, then I don’t see a problem.”
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal member Aaron had the same reaction. Aaron attended Middleborough High School, which is known for its “Sachem” mascot. When attending Middleborough High School, Aaron said, “I never necessarily found it offensive. I found it represented us more than did the opposite.”
If the school committee is discussing issues about members of the Wampanoag Tribe, why has a board been formed without known communication to the tribal members?
History Teacher Megan Lizotte, who is a DHS alumna, said, “It is definitely important to have perspective on someone who it is actually affecting. There are still plenty of Wampanoag members in the area.”
Ms. Andrews-Maltais agrees. “Hopefully we [the Wampanoag Tribe] can hear back from the town if there is a committee board set in place,” she said.
Wampanoag Tribal members don’t speak for all American Indians in America. The Wampanoag tribe represents this region and the Dartmouth Indian represents the strength of the native people. Although Ms. Andrews-Maltais doesn’t agree with the word “mascot,” she believes the Dartmouth Indians represent who the American Indians are.
“We are not mascots, we are not mythical characters. We are strong warriors,” said Ms. Andrews-Maltais.
This story was originally published on The Spectrum on October 20, 2019.