Activities board wants schools to consider harmfulness of Indian mascots

By Dana Hess for the South Dakota Newspaper Association

PIERRE — School district leaders should take the time to consider if their use of Native American mascots is disrespectful. That was the message from the South Dakota High School Activities Association board of directors on Wednesday as it passed the first reading of a resolution asking its member schools not to use stereotypical Indian mascots and team names.
“We’re only asking the association to ask its membership to consider not using it,” said Roger Bordeaux of the Tiospa Zina Tribal School and the Native American at-large representative on the SDHSAA board.
Prior to the board’s November meeting, Bordeaux offered a PowerPoint presentation to the board and all member schools about the negative impact Indian mascots can have on Native American students.
The resolution Bordeaux offered for the board’s consideration cites examples of that harm from the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association and the White House Initiative on American Indian/Alaska Native Education.
“Don’t assume there’s unanimity on this issue,” said Sisseton School Board Member Ron Evenson. He said local tribal members in the Sisseton area have encouraged the school’s use of the team name Redmen.
In particular, Evenson took exception to the concluding section of the resolution that says “it is very clear that Indian mascots, and any representation of stereotypical Indian imagery not only cause harm to American Indian youth, but moreover, such imagery is not suitable for educational settings which aim to foster healthy psychological development and/or student self-actualization.”
“Is it very clear?” Evenson asked. “Do you know that it’s causing harm?”
If it is harmful, Evenson said, the board should be doing more than passing a nonbinding resolution.
“You’re the folks that should be dealing with it,” Evenson said. “Why aren’t you telling them all they have to stop?”
Schools that refused to give up their Indian mascots could be denied eligibility for postseason play, Evenson said.
Woonsocket Superintendent Rod Weber, whose school identifies with the traditional Redmen name, asked who was behind the resolution and if the board had researched the affects of Native American team names and mascots. All of Woonsocket’s sports teams, excluding cross country, which only has runners from Woonsocket, are in a coop with other schools and go by the name Blackhawks.
Bordeaux said the idea for the resolution came from people who work with him.
“All these national organizations are saying that it’s not OK,” Bordeaux said. “From an evidence standpoint, it’s all right there.”
Board member Brian Maher, the superintendent of the Sioux Falls School district and home of the Washington Warriors, said he asked for a history of the team name shortly after he took the job. He said he found that a lot of thought and cultural sensitivity went into the way the name was used and he didn’t think that the resolution would cause the school district to change the team name.
“We’re not compelling anybody to change,” Maher said, noting the board was considering a resolution rather than a regulation.
“The intent of the resolution is honorable,” said board chairman Jason Uttermark of Aberdeen. “Just take a look, that’s all that we’re asking.”
The board passed the first reading of the resolution on an 8-1 vote. The dissenting vote was cast by Moe Ruesink of Sioux Valley in Volga.
There are as many as 16 South Dakota high schools with mascot names that might be considered offensive according to the SDHSAA resolution. Those schools include the Bennett County Warriors, the Britton-Hecla Braves, the Castlewood Warriors, the Cheyenne-Eagle Butte Braves, the Crazy Horse Chiefs, the Crow Creek Chieftains, the Estelline Redmen, the Iroquois Chiefs, the Lower Brule Sioux, the Marty Indian School Braves, the St. Francis Indian School Warriors, the Sisseton Redmen, the Wakpala Sioux, the Sioux Falls Washington Warriors, the Watertown Arrows and the Woonsocket Redmen.

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