A half-dozen speakers urged the state board of education to ban the use of Native American nicknames, logos and mascots for school sports teams, citing negative stereotypes and derogatory images.
Nineteen high schools in the region use Native American-related nicknames such as Braves, Indians and Warriors, most with an accompanying Indian-related logo. Three schools north of Dayton — St. Henry, Fort Loramie and Wapakoneta — use Redskins, which is termed “usually offensive” by Merriam-Webster and “contemptuous” by Dictionary.com.
Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman Brittany Halpin said the decision on nicknames and logos is left to local school boards, but she added, “We encourage districts to be respectful to Native American heritage.”
This news organization sought comment from the 19 school districts that use Indian nicknames, getting responses from seven by mid-afternoon Monday.
Clark-Shawnee Superintendent Brian Kuhn said the Springfield-area school district “engaged with members of the Shawnee tribe” about five years ago about the district’s “Braves” mascot and logos. The district had used an Indian-head logo in the past, but switched to a Block-S with two feathers attached.
“We adjusted our logo based on the feedback we received, and we also have hosted an assembly where a member of the Shawnee tribe engaged with our students about the tribe’s values, heritage and history,” Kuhn said. “As a district, we want to respectfully and authentically honor our namesake and we will continue to carefully consider any input we receive.”
At Newton Local Schools in Miami County, Superintendent Pat McBride took a harder stance, saying the school’s “Indians” nickname is a symbol of school pride and should not be seen as offensive by Native Americans.
“In this country, the PC culture is continuing to fuel conflict where none should exist and in places where common sense prevails,” McBride said. “As a person of Irish heritage and with a name of Patrick McBride, I could take offense of Notre Dame’s mascot, the “Fighting Irish.” I don’t because I have better things to do with my time.”
Talawanda Schools in Oxford announced last month that they are forming a branding committee to study the district’s “Braves” mascot after calls by local residents and a national organization to change the logo.
The American Indian Sports Team Mascots website says despite being the seventh-most populous state, Ohio ranks No. 1 nationally in use of Indian team nicknames and logos, with Ohio public schools using the “Redskins” nickname more than any other state.
More than 20 years ago, Miami University changed its athletic nickname from Redskins to RedHawks, but Ohio High School Athletic Association spokesman Tim Stried said he’s not aware of any Ohio K-12 schools that have changed their nickname away from an Indian-related version.
“Schools have complete control of their own mascots, logos, slogans, mottos and school colors,” Stried said. “The OHSAA is not involved in those local school decisions.”
Six people spoke to the state school board on this topic last week, asking that group to be leaders via a statement or policy. They said using Indians as mascots exploits people’s dignity and amounts to the very bullying that schools and the state say they are against.
Kathy McMahon-Klosterman, professor emerita of educational psychology at Miami University, said as educators, those in schools need to model the behavior they want to see from students.
Philip Yenyo, executive director of the American Indian Movement for Ohio, said many of the schools use “derogatory, racist images,” while arguing that those images are part of the community’s history.
“But you don’t realize that your history is steeped in racism. … When you dehumanize people to the level of a cartoon, it affects people’s self-esteem,” Yenyo said, suggesting that these issues contribute to Native Americans’ high rates of substance abuse and suicide.
Mary Pember, a Red Cliff Ojibwe, told the state board she lives near Anderson High School outside Cincinnati, where the Redskins mascot is prominently displayed. She said her middle-school-aged son tells friends he’s Mexican because he doesn’t want to be teased by classmates about his Indian heritage.
Janice Dutton, mother of two Talawanda High School graduates, suggested use of Indian mascots could put schools in violation of federal civil rights law, by creating a hostile learning environment. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-native schools 17 years ago.
State school board member Pat Bruns, who represents Warren and Hamilton counties, pointed out that Ohio’s new strategic plan on education calls equity of education for each child the state’s biggest challenge.
“The path to equity begins with a deep understanding of the history of discrimination and bias and how it has come to impact current society,” Bruns read from the state plan, then added, “I believe that we share your concerns and that we’re going to continue to work forward in this conversation.”
The other districts to respond to our questions said their schools have had no conversations about changing their nicknames, and no more than one or two calls or complaints about the issue in recent years.
“I don’t think you have to be of Native American heritage or part of any other group to be offended by something you believe to be wrong,” Lebanon Superintendent Todd Yohey said. “One of the great things about living in America is that you have a right not to like something or disagree with another’s position.”
Asked if that meant he found Lebanon’s logo offensive, Yohey replied, “I’ll let my answer to (the question) stand as is.”
Cedarville Superintendent Chad Mason said, “It is definitely not the intent of the district to offend or hurt anyone. I would hope that is not the case.”
Tecumseh Superintendent Paula Crew said her district is “proudly named after the Native American Shawnee warrior and chief, Tecumseh.” She said she doesn’t believe the district has discussed the name with any Native American nation.
Madison Superintendent Lisa Tuttle-Huff, said, “We do not believe that our mascot is offensive in any manner. Our mascot (the Mohawks) is the name of a tribe. There is nothing derogatory about the name of a tribe. We respect our history and want to celebrate it.”
Huber Heights City Schools, whose Wayne High School uses a Warrior Indian logo, said they are “closely monitoring how the Ohio Department of Education is handling school districts using Native American mascots.” District spokesman Zack Frink said HHCS “will be respectful of all races and cultures as the district gathers more information on the issue.”