School board of majority Native American district votes to keep ‘Redskins’


 

Many school districts that use the name “Redskins” have wound up in the news in recent days. Here’s a summary.

WELLPINIT HIGH, in Washington

The most arresting development came in Eastern Washington at Wellpinit High, part of a district that “serves all students on the Spokane Indian Reservation,” according to its Web site. The district’s student body is 67 percent Native American, according to the latest demographic information posted online. It’s located in the state represented by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D), who led the Senate’s letter-writing campaign to Roger Goodell.

And yet the school board met last week and reaffirmed its support for the Redskins name. Via Spokane’s KXLY.com:

Wednesday night the school board got together and decided, despite a push to get the mascot changed at the high school, they won’t be pursuing a re-branding from the Redskins….

Those who have lived in Wellpinit, for decades say the mascot has been a part of the community since 1907.

James Williams, a school board member for the last eight years and current vice chairman of the board, said a majority of those he talks to don’t want to see it changed.

“It’s something they have been brought up with all their life, and you know I don’t think they look at it being very derogatory,” he said.

Williams added the term has been the focus of a few meetings and they’ve decided it needs to stay.

“We decided last night that we weren’t going to change it. Talking to a lot of community members, the majority of the community don’t want it changed,” Williams said, adding there is too much pride in being a mighty Redskin that he wouldn’t want to be one to take that away.

Wellpinit superintendent Tim Ames had previously discussed the issue with Spokane’s KREM:

Ames said the governing body on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit approached the school district about educating people about what the Redskins name meant and potentially changing it.

“I can tell you, nobody has point blank said to me, ‘Tim that’s an offensive name in our community.’” Ames explained. “Even when I met with the Elders, they are even more intrigued by changing it. Their point was, ‘If we were to name our selves today, would we use the Redskins name?’ And they said, ‘probably not’.”

(Full disclosure: A Redskins spokesman forwarded along this story and urged me to write about it.)

NESHAMINY HIGH, in Pennsylvania

The high school outside Philadelphia has received months of national attention after editors of the school newspaper attempted to ban the word “Redskins” from their publication, and school officials attempted to prevent them. Via Philly.com this week:

Even as the school year came to an end last week, the controversy coursed through the halls. A board member said students may have violated district policy – or even the law – by printing an issue without approval. Editors saw the principal confiscating copies in the halls. And board meetings have been scheduled for the end of this month, potentially to vote on the issue. That might trigger a lawsuit from the student editors, all scheduled to return as seniors this fall….

Steve Pirritano, a member of the Neshaminy school board, is among those who feels the students have gone too far. The students have rejected any compromise on printing the word, he said, and they printed the paper in June without permission, which likely violated district policy.

The district is investigating that incident, Pirritano said, and because it may have cost thousands of dollars to print, he said, it’s possible administrators will refer the case to police. “In the end, it wasn’t about their editorial rights,” Pirritano said. “It was about, in my opinion, their ability to invoke their social opinion on the rest of the paper.”

Two board meetings this week could determine if students are allowed to ban the word. The students said they may sue if the board prohibits them from setting their own editorial guidelines. They’re already on edge, after school officials last week reset the passwords for the newspaper’s e-mail and social-media accounts, effectively locking them out.

The AP provided an update on Wednesday:

A school board committee recommended Tuesday that the full board today take up the policy that would bar the Neshaminy High School newspaper from banning the name of the mascot from its editorials or its letters to the editor, the Bucks County Courier Times reported.

The changes from the original language approved in April gave students more control over the news section of the Playwickian but retained other restrictions on online comments, prior administrative review and protecting editors from being punished for removing the word.

The newspaper staff voted in October to ban the word “Redskins,” calling it a racial slur. Some district officials contend that the students aren’t allowed to do that.

“This is a curriculum-related, education-related school-district exercise. It is not a newspaper like the Philly Inquirer or any of the other fine newspapers,” the district’s attorney, Michael Levin, said at Tuesday night’s committee meeting. “That is why the restrictions can be placed, and the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that restrictions like these can be there.”

Attorney Matthew Schafer, representing the student editors, said the proposed policy violates state law and the U.S. Constitution and tries to usurp state law.

“As a school board under the First Amendment, you are not allowed to pick winners and losers, and that is what this policy attempts to do,” he said.

HURRICANE HIGH, in West Virginia

Local news outlets in the Charleston-area school have done stories on the school’s Redskins name in recent days. Via WCHS:

[Redskins] has been the school’s nickname since the 1960s, and the thought of having to change it brings strong reaction from residents.

“I think it’s silly,” Hurricane resident Tim Meisner said.

“Just silly,” Hurricane graduate Clinton Jordan said….

Here at home, there are two Native American tribes, the Appalachian American Indians of West Virginia and the Native Americans Indian Federation of West Virginia. Their view is a little different than the national view.

“I believe it was used to indicate school spirit and fighting spirit, and I kind of appreciate the fact that they remembered there are American Indians in West Virginia,” said David Cremeans, principal chief of the Native American Indian Federation of West Virginia.

Cremeans said 200 years ago the term “redskins” was a derogatory term, but it’s not anymore. He said Native Americans have much more important issues to work on such as poverty, child care and alcoholism, instead of worrying about a team’s mascot.

And more, via WOWK:

Principal Chief of the Native American Indian Foundation of West Virginia, David Cremeans, tells us about the terms hurtful past. “It has always been used with a negative intent.” He goes on to say that “we don’t believe that these high schools sat down to pick a mascot that has a negative meaning, but one that is strong and represents the school.”

He says his local group here in West Virginia doesn’t take any offense to the redskin mascot, but looks at is as a way to reach out to the community and embrace Native American culture.

While some may find the redskins mascot offensive or racist, those who support the school say they look at it as a symbol of pride. The Athletic Director at HHS says “we have never heard anything negative about it, its always been the redskins play the generals or the dots or whoever, it has always been a positive thing”. If the school was asked to change its mascot the community is willing to fight for their longstanding tradition.

The Charleston Gazette noted in a story that Native Americans “constitute just 0.2 percent of Putnam County’s population according to the most recent Census,” adding that “there has never been much fuss directed at the Hurricane High School Redskins.”

“It’s never been mentioned, as far as I know there’s never been an issue,” said Putnam County superintendent Chuck Hatfield. “And I’ve been here for 41 years.”…

Wayne Gray Owl Appleton is the principal chief of the Appalachian American Indians of West Virginia, which, with more than 5,000 members, is the largest [Native] American group in the state.

Appleton said he didn’t mind Hurricane High School’s mascot and was even planning on writing a letter to the high school to congratulate them on their baseball championship. He pointed to high autism rates, low graduation rates, diabetes, alcoholism and drug addiction as the serious problems facing American Indians.

“These are big issues, and, in terms of arguing about the name Redskins, that’s a 50-cent issue,” Appleton said. “In our council, it’s like hey, let’s deal with child abuse, let’s deal with poverty, let’s deal with a lot of other things. Even if this was much more egregious, it ain’t worth the effort.”

EMMERICH MANUAL HIGH, NORTH SIDE HIGH, KNOX HIGH and GOSHEN HIGH, in Indiana

Indiana outlets have done stories on these four schools as a group in recent days.

“It doesn’t sound as if schools in Indiana that still use the Redskins nickname are in any hurry to change,” WIBC reported.

“I wouldn’t say there’s any plans on the horizon to change that mascot name or to change the logo,” said Krista Stockman with Fort Wayne Community Schools on the use of Redskins at Northside. “There was one person (recently) who came before the board asking them to reconsider, and the board took no action. That’s really the last we have heard of it from the community.”

And yet school official Melanie Hall said after the trademark decision that the school board would discuss the issue.

“I think this is something that we need to talk about with our board and with our stakeholders,” she told 21 Alive. “It’s not going to be a quick process; it’s something we’ll do very thoughtfully.”

And yet…I have no idea if they actually will. Via WANE:

Krista Stockman, a spokeswoman for Fort Wayne Community Schools, says the North Side Redskins nickname is not an issue for the corporation.  She says it only comes up when the Washington Redskins controversy is in the news and the school board has never indicated a desire to change the mascot.

Personally, Glenna Jehl with the Fort Wayne Community School Board of Trustees says the nickname is a tradition.

“North Side High School has had the Redskins name and it’s been a proud tradition for [decades],” Jehl said.  “They bear that name proudly and it’s not in any way shape or form meant to be derogatory or demeaning toward the Native Americans”

Others, though, object. Via Fox59.com:

“(It’s) high time any Indiana K-12 school (with the) ‘Redskins’ mascot retire it,” said state board member Gordon Hendry, who also called the name ‘offensive & inappropriate, lacking honor, respect & dignity.’

Ashley Holland works at the Eiteljorg Museum, and she’s also an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. She says it’s flat out offensive, whether it’s a pro team or high school using the name.

“If someone would refer to me by the R-word, I would be highly offended,” said Holland. “It’s very bothersome when I see someone wearing a T-shirt with that word on it, it’s something that causes a very visceral reaction for me.”

But some of the school’s alumni want to see the school keep the name.

“I think it’s a great honor,” said alumnus Gordon Durnil. “I’m proud to be a Manual Redskin.”

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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