Nezperce School District Retires "Indians" Mascot
Nezperce School District
On Monday, July 13th the Nezperce school board retired their "Indians" mascot. Come Fall they will be seeking suggestions for the new school mascot. Below is the statement regarding the change written by Superintendent Shawn Tiegs.
"Nezperce School Board Members,
I want to be clear that I have not ever and would not ever call this community racist as a whole. Our community is a loving and understanding community that embraces differences and encourages them. I grew up here and know that the vast majority of people are not racists. With that being said, I have, throughout the years, listened to people and heard jokes that were overtly racist. In my years growing up here and in other communities I have heard an extremely small number of people talk disparagingly of Native Americans generally and the Nez Perce Tribe and it’s members specifically. These experiences do not reflect the entire community or even a significant number of community members and they are rare. I have also heard many people speak positively about the Nez Perce Tribe and individual Native Americans whom many of us call family and friends. To say that racism doesn’t exist in this community or really any community would be as ridiculous of a statement as calling this community racist as a whole. The vast majority of the Nezperce community is not racist which is why I believe we are allowing and having this mascot conversation. Like so many other communities, our constituents take a legitimate and general pride in their mascot that they grew up with. This pride has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with racism. Our constituents view the mascot in terms of many positive traits, bravery, fearlessness, courage, etc. and they would never intend for the mascot to hurt or to do harm to another race of people. We take pride in our mascot, but the Nez Perce tribe and the larger Native American community have made clear that they do not take pride in our mascot that represents their actual identity as human beings. I understand the community sentiment of pride in our mascot , but I also find logical agreement that mascots are generally not selected entirely for their positive traits. If that was the case we would not have savages, maniacs, raiders, tornadoes, hurricanes, devils or demons as mascots. There is a reason why the vast majority of animal mascots are predators and carnivores.
We as a school and as a community have recognized, for at least the last 6 years, that it is no longer appropriate to use imagery of violent nature or or cartoonish caricatures of Native American people. As a matter of fact, we have not used imagery at all. While our “mascot” is the Indians, we have removed virtually all visual representations of Native American people or Indians from our school grounds. Our uniforms, letterhead, and mascot no longer carry imagery and we have only one set of uniforms that even has the word “Indians” on it. Our Mascot has become a blue and gold “N”. Throughout this change, we have virtually eliminated our mascot already. This is why I argue that it is time for a change. It is time for our district to have a mascot that we can utilize and support without tip-toeing around these legitimate, serious, and complex issues. The way I see it the board and the community have 4 options with some grey areas in between.
1. Status Quo - Ignore the situation and continue on with limited use of the mascot. Ignore the requests of the Nez Perce Tribal Leadership, the Sho-Ban Tribe and other Native American groups that represent large swaths of Native American populations, and continue to utilize our mascot in the limited manner that we do. Continue to eliminate and forbid the use of any imagery and be careful when attributing certain traits like violence or savagery with our mascot or our sports programs to avoid offending anyone or crossing a sometimes hard to see line. I believe and know personally that there are a number of Native people are certainly okay with this status quo and the use of our mascot but the Nez Perce Tribe as an organization of people have made clear that they are not. I do believe that there are a significant number of people in our community who are supportive of this path. Change is hard and a mascot brings identity to a school and sports programs and to the entire community. This has worked for us the last six years and to various degrees for the last 30 years.
2. Dang the torpedoes, full speed ahead - Return to the full-throated use of our mascot that has not been present in our school for 30 years. Bring back the imagery, the “Scalp ‘em” chants, , faux native dances, the tomahawk chop, the headdress and the cartoonish and historically inaccurate dress. Bring back images such as the chief head, the Indian warrior, the spear, the tomahawks, the feather, and the arrowhead. Do what we want because we are free to and we don’t care what others think. All of our past, long-since-extinct-practices regarding the mascot would be allowable and acceptable, because if we have done them in the past then those traditions should be protected and maintained. I have not heard any Native person that is okay with this. I do believe that there is a minority group in our community that at the very least see this as an acceptable option even if they do not vocally advocate for it. Let me be blunt… I do not.
3. Work with the Tribe - The National Congress of American Indians and others have left some room in their advocacy on this issue for schools and sports teams to work with the Native American communities to develop a mascot that truly represents a tribe. The Florida State Seminoles and the University of Utah Utes are examples of this. Doing this would involve sitting down at the table with the Nez Perce tribe to see if we could work together to create buy-in and support of our use of the Indian mascot. This would mean a loss of autonomy in the use of our school mascot. Types of images and use of images would need to be approved by the school and by the Nez Perce tribe. Sports chants, songs, decorations, and uniforms would be subject to veto by the Nez Perce tribe if they found them to be offensive. The district would work hard to be responsive to the tribe and the district would consider the tribe a co-equal in all decisions regarding the use of the current mascot. We would necessarily double down on our current efforts to ensure that all of our students recognize the importance of the existence of the Nez Perce people that the complete, accurate, and honest history of the tribe. In short, we would work hard to create a buy-in and support from the tribe regarding our use of a mascot. Some in our community may be supportive of this option as an alternative to changing the mascot, but my feeling is that there is limited support for this option.
4. Change the Mascot. This would not be a recognition that our entire community is racist. The history of the Nezperce School district would not change our mascot was our mascot and that history will not change or be erased. The mascot would change. Times change, we know that generally what people find to be acceptable has changed over time and that is okay. We could select a mascot that is more representative of the community in which we live. Our mascot could be ferocious, fearless, proud, wise, brave or none, all, or a combination of any of the above. We could select a mascot that we would no longer have to tip-toe around. We could dance, chant, sing, and dress-up as that mascot. We would not have to address this difficult issue in perpetuity. In my opinion, this is not about being “politically correct”, it is about doing the right thing at the right time in the arc of history. It is about removing a distraction that has nothing to do with the success of our students, it is about sending a message that our school community is willing to look at the outside world and change and adapt when it is required.
The Nezperce community is not hateful, we are not racist, we have coexisted in relative peace with our Nez Perce tribe brothers and sisters while residing within the boundaries of their reservation for more than a century. I would challenge any person who says to me that the existence of the Indian mascot is proof that we are racist. We, the constituents of the Nezperce School District, are good and loving people. The proposed change in mascot isn’t about being “liberal”, “PC” or “woke”, this isn’t about being a “snowflake”. I personally do not believe that this is a slippery slope, a common logical fallacy that you hear when discussing this topic. There is no evidence that a decision to change would mean that we have to change the name of the town or the name of a nearby county or anything else. There is a clear logical difference between the name of a location and a sports mascot. This is not about changing history, this is not tearing down statues. History is simply a reflection of past practices and decisions which if accurate is immutable. A decision to change the mascot is simply a decision that we have to make one way or the other and I encourage you, as always do, to act in the best interest of the community and in the best interest of the school and most importantly our students. There can be disagreement and we will be okay if we talk through those ideas and then agree to support the decision that the group makes. There will and can be the natural anger that comes with loss of an Indian mascot that the vast majority of us are fond and supportive of. As I said in some of my earlier writing, I believe that now is the time for a change."