Indian mascot spurs controversy at Massachusetts high school

Photo+of+the+1964+Dartmouth+High+School+Thanksgiving+Day+game.+Source%3A+DHS+yearbook.
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Indian mascot spurs controversy at Massachusetts high school

Photo of the 1964 Dartmouth High School Thanksgiving Day game. Source: DHS yearbook.

Photo of the 1964 Dartmouth High School Thanksgiving Day game. Source: DHS yearbook.

1964 DHS Yearbook

Photo of the 1964 Dartmouth High School Thanksgiving Day game. Source: DHS yearbook.

1964 DHS Yearbook

1964 DHS Yearbook

Photo of the 1964 Dartmouth High School Thanksgiving Day game. Source: DHS yearbook.

By Morgan Banville and Alexias Soares, Dartmouth HS, Dartmouth, Mass.

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On Sept. 15, Assistant Dean of Students at UMASS Dartmouth and YWCA Board member Juli Parker published an opinion article in the Standard-Times. In it, Ms. Parker pleaded with the public to write to both Dartmouth and Seekonk’s school boards to make them change their mascots.

“Find another mascot, one that does not offend and misrepresent a culture and a community of people who have endured enough misrepresentation,” wrote Ms. Parker.

Find another mascot, one that does not offend and misrepresent a culture and a community of people who have endured enough misrepresentation.”

— Juli Parker, concerned community member

Recently, DHS has experienced lots of attention due to students dressing up like Native Americans and even having a Native American as a mascot. Students have worn feathers and face paint at sporting events, and there have also been banners held by students displaying their school pride. “Support your tribe” is often tweeted by students before a sporting event.

The New England Anti-Mascot Coalition reported 43 schools in Massachusetts that have an Indian as their mascot, nickname, or logo. Altogether in New England, there are 91 schools with the representation. The names of these mascots range anywhere from Rangers, Tomahawks, Aztecs, Red Raiders, Warriors, Wamps, Chieftains, Sachems, to the Braves and “Redmen and Lady Redmen.”

When Ms. Parker finds something she disagrees with, she said, “I publish it.” She felt that the Indian head is a stereotypical representation and DHS should change its mascot just as Natick, Nauset, and Dedham High Schools have.

Chemistry teacher Melissa Pavlik said, “People in general concern themselves with what’s politically correct. Having an Indian as a mascot is not about being insensitive to one’s heritage. It’s a mascot.”

Who am I to question mom and dad who are sitting right next to their child? I don’t see anything demeaning; it’s school spirit.”

— John Gould, principal

“I have family who are Native American,” said Ms. Parker. “My stepfather and brother are a part of the Chippewa Tribe.”

However, DHS freshman Tom Pullin, who is 70% Mollala Native American, originating from the areas in and around Arizona and New Mexico, said, “I’d think it’d [the Indian mascot] be a cool thing. [I’m] not offended in the slightest.”

DHS sophomore Riley Piva, who is 1/16 Mashpee-Wampanoag said, “I feel like it makes us more proud.”

DHS Principal John Gould commented on the girls wearing Native American costumes at one of the football games. “Who am I to question mom and dad who are sitting right next to their child?” said Mr. Gould. “I don’t see anything demeaning; it’s school spirit.”

According to the MIAA Sportsmanship Guidelines for Fan/Spectator Support Items, fans are not prohibited from painting their faces/bodies or coloring their hair in manners that appropriately demonstrate school spirit. However, out of respect to facilities that host MIAA tournament contests, student support groups should do their painting prior to entering the facility.

DHS Assistant Principal Joanne Desmarais admitted she has confiscated the feathers people put in their hair at pep rallies in the past. She also said that she intervenes when students use the tomahawk chop at sporting events. Ms. Desmarais explained that in her perspective, the use of Native American stereotypes doesn’t classify as school spirit.

Mr. Gould continued discussing the topic and said, “Who am I to step in and tell the community they’re wrong?” Mr. Gould brought up the First Amendment and stated how we have a right to express ourselves.

Recently, announcers who work for CBS Sports began boycotting the Washington Redskins name by refusing to use it during games. During the games, they refer to the team as “Washington” instead of the “Washington Redskins.”

According to Ms. Parker, “Change the Mascot” is a national campaign to end the use of the racial slur “redskins” as a mascot name, as well as to change the name of the National Football League team in Washington, D.C. This was launched by the Oneida Indian Nation. The campaign itself calls upon the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell to “bring an end to the use of the racial epithet.”

“I think the term ‘Redman’ is worse than ‘Indian’ in some ways because that’s actually stereotypical and the color of someone’s skin,” said Ms. Parker. “You would never say the N-word as the name of a team.”

You would never say the N-word as the name of a team. It wouldn’t be tolerated.”

— Juli Parker

Ms. Parker continued by saying that she couldn’t imagine this same imagery being acceptable if it represented African-Americans. “It wouldn’t be tolerated,” said Ms. Parker.

According to Ms. Parker, a longtime NFL referee has been boycotting the Redskins silently for years by asking not to be put on their games. “If it’s inappropriate for the National Football League to have an Indian head as a mascot, then it’s inappropriate at the high school level as well,” said Ms. Parker.

Ms. Parker wrote her article as a board member of the YWCA, which is an organization that aims to eliminate racism. “What kind of respect do Massachusetts citizens give to their foremothers and forefathers, who lived here first, by using racist representations from the past?” wrote Ms. Parker.

Dartmouth resident and former School Committee member Greg Jones commented on Ms. Parker’s online article. “How is the word ‘Indian’ a racial slur? Give me a break,” wrote Mr. Jones in a comment on the Standard-Times website.

I don’t believe it is racist at all. It represents our history.”

— Austin Sa, freshman

“I don’t believe it is racist at all,” said freshman Austin Sa. “It represents our history.”

Many of the online comments were similar. Paul Cardoza also commented on the Standard-Times website, “We have 18-year-old kids fighting and dying in other parts of the world. We have crazies beheading innocent people in the name of religion. We have a horrific disease threatening to spread around the world. And here we are, worried about the mascots of our football teams.”

DHS secretary Diane St. Pierre said, “That’s been the mascot since I was here [DHS] in 1963. I don’t think it’s racist at all. I would think it flattered the Native Americans.”

Agreeing, Dartmouth resident Cathy Banville said, “Why do people think it’s so offensive? I think it’s an honor to them since they were the first to settle here.”

DHS hall monitor Darnell Cunha said, “I think Dartmouth is honoring the tribe. This is the least we can do.”

Even so, Ms. Parker stood her ground and said, “I think it’s straight-up racist.” She continued by saying how the word Indian is a word that white people coined for Native Americans.

“I don’t think we should even have Columbus Day,” said Ms. Parker. “We should not have a holiday that celebrates the slaughtering of Indians.”

It seems that Ms. Parker is not alone in the idea that DHS should change its mascot. Freshman Brett Cabral said, “I want to change it [the mascot]. I just don’t like the Indians.” He agreed with Ms. Parker and said how he too believes the mascot to be racist.

DHS junior Tori Dias said, “It is politically correct enough, but if we have enough Native American people who are offended by it, then we should respect that and change it.”

Since DHS, among other schools, has a Native American mascot, Ms. Parker suggested what we could change our mascot to. “Scalloping is a huge industry that goes unnoticed around here,” she said. “DHS could be the ‘Dartmouth Scallops’ or even the ‘Dartmouth Quahogs.’”

She elaborated by saying how Quahogs are a popular industry around here, too. “The ‘Dartmouth Ducks’ is an idea as well,” she said. “Animals as a mascot are safe.”

Ms. Desmarais said, “I think that if there were a group of concerned citizens, we would be compelled to consider making changes.” Ms. Desmarais elaborated by saying that if in the event we did have to change the DHS mascot, the students and community would vote on it.

“Whatever mascot we have to represent that tradition would have to be a proud one,” said Ms. Desmarais.

Something that represents culture or people as a mascot draws a line. “There’s a high school in California called the Fighting Arabs,” said Ms. Parker. “There’s a lot of negativity and drama surrounding that.”

Physical Education teacher Michael Frates said, “I think it’s our identity. I think it’s tasteful, and I think it’s done the right way.”

The consensus among students seemingly is the same. DHS senior Samantha Emmett said, “I love it [the Indian mascot]. I think it’s genius. We are a tribe.”

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