A high school newspaper is in the middle of reignited tensions in a small Idaho town over the school’s “Redskins” nickname. Students from Teton High School in Driggs, near the border with Wyoming, have walked out of class twice in recent days to support the 90 year-old nickname, while the school newspaper has vowed to change its name to distance itself from a word staffers consider an ethnic slur.
The 12-member newspaper staff ran a front-page editorial in April announcing it would rename the publication, previously “The War Cry,” over concerns that name was disrespectful to Native Americans. The newspaper, first published in 1949, was previously called, “The Chief,” “As the School Turns,” “Smoke Signals” and “Tribal Gossip,” according to the Teton Valley News.
“We want a paper that welcomes students from all backgrounds, cultures, and identities, and we were concerned that our previous name did not reflect those values,” the staff wrote in the unsigned editorial. “Standing alone, our name, The War Cry, is fine. But when placed within the context of our school mascot, we were concerned that it fed into a word that has been long acknowledged as a racial slur.”
The newspaper for the April issue ran under the name, “We Are Teton.” It will debut a new permanent name selected with input from the student body at the start of the next school year, newspaper adviser Susan Pence said.
“We decided that if change was going to happen, it had to start somewhere,” the paper’s editor, senior Ella Hundere Dahlgren, said in a phone interview. “Yes, it has to do with the mascot, but we want our newspaper to be inclusive to everyone. That’s what news is supposed to be.”
In response to the change and recent parent concerns, a group of 10 students on May 6, left class holding signs that read, “Redskin pride,” and “Save the Redskins.” Four days later, a group of 30 left the school during class with similar banners, clad in school spirit-wear and face paint, according to the school’s newspaper. They stood outside for 40 minutes and waved to passing cars, encouraging them to honk in support of the mascot.
High schools around the country are grappling with use of the Redskins nickname and other phrases that allude to Native Americans. Some tribes and advocacy groups have mounted efforts for years to eliminate the Redskins name and other sports nicknames with mixed results.
California passed a law in 2015 that prohibited schools from using the Redskins nickname. At the end of 2017, 49 schools used the nickname, down from 93 schools in 1989, according to the Capital News Service. Dozens more use the name Indians. A 2016 Washington Post poll found 90 percent of Native Americans said the Washington Redskins team name did not bother them. Nine percent found it offensive, and one percent had no opinion.
Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has repeatedly said he will never change the NFL franchise’s name.
And in towns where leaders have forced schools to drop the Redskins name, communities have pushed back.
At Neshaminy High School in Pennsylvania in 2014, administrators suspended the school newspaper’s editor in chief and adviser, cut the publication’s funding and removed papers from classrooms after editors decided to redact the word Redskins, the school’s nickname, in articles.
Later, after another confrontation with the school’s principal over excluding the nickname from publication, administrators barred students from accessing the newspaper’s website to post more articles. Student journalists could only post to the website with the direct faculty supervision.
Teton’s school superintendent in 2013 unilaterally decided the high school, with an enrollment of close to 450 students, should drop the moniker, which he found offensive to Native Americans. Representatives of the local Shoshone-Bannock Tribe met with school system officials to led their support, according to the Idaho State Journal.
But the decision outraged locals, many of whom have generations of family members that graduated from the high school. It adopted the mascot in 1929, according to a yearbook found by the Teton Valley News.
The superintendent pulled back and allowed public comment on the decision at a school board meeting that had members in tears afterward, the Teton Valley News reported, and the board hasn’t taken up the name change issue since, but it is on the agenda for the board’s July meeting. Parents have started a GoFundMe page to rally support for the nickname.
Faculty members at the high school have already distanced themselves from the name. Only one sports team — the football team — still wears uniforms that display the word “Redskins," the student newspaper reported.
Some teachers have stopped using the school’s letterhead to write letters of recommendation or conduct official business, Pence said, the newspaper adviser, because the stationery includes Native American imagery.
All that was enough for the student newspaper to suggest that it, and the school, need a new identity.
“With the Redskins and ‘The War Cry’ together,” said Emily Fisher, a junior and one of the paper’s co-editors next school year, “it definitely feels derogatory.”