School board supports resolution to retire Native American mascots
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – More than a dozen districts across the state have thrown support behind a resolution to retire Native American mascots, and the Green Bay Area Public School District is now among them.
The resolution, which was brought forward by the Wausau School District, calls for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to advocate for legislation requiring districts to retire Native American mascots statewide.
Board President Brenda Warren said the goal is to get the resolution before the association’s Policy and Resolutions Committee at the end of this month and ultimately in front of its Delegate Assembly in January.
Board Clerk Laura McCoy was recently appointed to the committee and will participate in the discussion.
“If the resolution gets a majority vote at the Delegate Assembly, then it becomes the school board association’s directive to our legislators of what we want them to lobby for in the Legislature,” Warren said. “So by co-sponsoring the resolution it essentially puts weight behind Wausau’s resolution to say we feel like this is an important resolution that we would like to see come before the Delegate Assembly.”
The resolution states 31 of the state’s 421 districts still use Native American mascots, symbols, images, logos or nicknames.
Vice Chairman of the Oneida Nation, Brandon Stevens, spoke to the board Monday, Sept 9, urging members to support the resolution, saying the mascots are offensive, hurtful and damaging to their children.
“On behalf of the 17,000 Oneida citizens that I represent, I am here to say our nation strongly objects to the use of Native American mascots and logos,” Stevens said. “Resolutions in opposition of this racial mascot have been passed by all Native American Nations in Wisconsin, by the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council as a body, by the National Congress of American Indians, who first started a media campaign back in 1968 to study the disparaging use of Native American Mascots and logos.”
Stevens said the fact this is still an issue today confirms there is still a wide gap of understanding between Native American communities and non-native people.
J P Leary, a Cherokee/Delaware and associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, also encouraged the board to support the resolution.
“This resolution is a good one,” Leary said. “It lays out a research-based case showing that the use of Indian mascots, logos and nicknames is harmful to native children and also harmful to all children as it promotes a distorted understanding of contemporary native realities.”
The resolution also states using Native American mascots perpetuate inaccurate misconceptions about Native American people, culture, history, sovereignty, government, customs and traditions.
“As a district of one of the largest population of native students, you have a significant responsibly to our communities to refrain from practices that are harmful to native students and to encourage an end these practices which you are doing by supporting this resolution,” Leary said.
Board member Eric Vanden Heuvel thanked the Wausau School District for putting together the resolution and giving school districts the chance to support it.
“Fortunately, we don’t have any Native American mascots in our district, but know that this impacts our kids even if we’re not doing it, so I appreciate the opportunity to take action on something, so thank you to the Wausau School District,” Vanden Heuvel said.
The board took a formal vote on the resolution Wednesday, Sept. 11.
School districts interested in co-sponsoring the resolution have until Sept. 15 to show support.
“I’m super excited that our district is considering this and very grateful that we can get onboard,” said Rhonda Sitnikau, board member.