The school board for an Idaho high school that was the site of two student walkouts this spring in defense of its “Redskins” mascot voted Tuesday to “retire” the nickname after a board meeting that stretched longer than four hours before a packed gymnasium at the local elementary school.
Teton High in Driggs, just west of the border with Wyoming, has used the Redskins mascot since 1929. It took up the debate to drop the name after parent concerns and an editorial from the school newspaper saying it would rename the publication, previously “The War Cry,” over concerns that the name — and the school’s mascot — were disrespectful to Native Americans.
That prompted two walkouts in May in support of the name from students at the school, along with a sometimes venomous community dialogue. Locals said the controversy represents a rift in the Teton Valley’s demographics as new residents move in to take jobs in the thriving eco-tourism industry. The town is just a dozen miles from nearby resorts that host vacationers visiting Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
The five-member school board voted 4-1 to get rid of the Redskins moniker but allowed for future mascots with Indian themes and imagery. It said it would take a gradual approach to the process of considering a new nickname with community input and barred the use of taxpayer funds to remove or alter any signage on school grounds that bore the nickname or logo.
Other high schools around the state use the nicknames such as Indians, Savages, Warriors and Braves with Native American depictions, according to the Idaho Statesman.
Still, the reaction to the vote was one of disappointment, both at the meeting and online. A cadre of residents, all wearing matching burgundy “Save Our Redskins” shirts, walked out after the vote. Online, the disagreement continued.
“Will all of you . . . that wanted the change please wear shirts saying such. That way I know who to hate,” one user wrote on the public Facebook page “Teton High Mascot Debate.” “You’ve stolen from me and I will not forgive or forget.”
“Now that we’ve politicized our children and stiff armed the valley’s established sense of community and culture,” another user wrote, “I’d just like to remind everyone that tomorrow on reservations everywhere............ nobody will notice.”
Two of Idaho’s largest Native American tribes, the Shoshone-Bannock and Nez Percé, previously met with district officials to advocate for the change.
“We are very pleased that the school board listened to the tribes in removing the Redskins name,” Shoshone-Bannock spokeswoman Randy’L Teton told the Statesman after the meeting.
Defenders of the nickname sought to delay the vote as long as possible. The board had already scrapped a plan to vote on the issue at its July 8 meeting, and multiple community members asked for another delay Tuesday night.
Residents sought to place the question on the ballot for local municipal elections in November, but that was shot down by the Idaho secretary of state’s office.
High schools around the country continue to grapple with use of the Redskins nickname and other phrases that allude to Native Americans. This year, Maine banned public schools, colleges and universities from using Native American mascots. California banned public schools from using “Redskins” in 2015.
At the end of 2017, 49 schools used that nickname, down from 93 schools in 1989, according to 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 1 percent had no opinion.
Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has repeatedly said he will never change the NFL franchise’s name.
The debate in Teton over the name dates to 2013, when Teton’s superintendent unilaterally decided the high school, with an enrollment of close to 450 students, should drop the moniker, which is recognized by most dictionaries as a slur.
But the decision outraged locals, many of whom have generations of family members that graduated from the high school, and the superintendent pulled back and asked the board to consider the nickname. It never held a vote on the proposal.
The school, though, began distancing itself from the name. Only one sports team — the football team — still wore uniforms last year that displayed the word “Redskins,” the student newspaper reported.
Some teachers stopped using the school’s letterhead to write letters of recommendation or conduct official business, newspaper adviser Susan Pence said, because the stationery includes Native American imagery.
All that was enough for the student newspaper to suggest that it, and the school, needed a new identity.
“With the Redskins and ‘The War Cry’ together, it definitely feels derogatory,” Emily Fisher, a rising senior and one of the paper’s co-editors next school year, said in an interview in May.
The paper will choose a new name when a new mascot is selected. Until then, it has run under the masthead “We Are Teton.”