The Native American mascot debate is now sparking new state demands and legislation.
The Department of Instruction has ordered the Berlin school district to change their mascot name from Indians to something less rooted in race.
DPI spokesperson Patrick Gasper said it’s too early to know what consequences the district will face, but any school district in violation of a state order to switch its mascot, name, or logo can be fined $100 to $1,000 a day until action is taken.
Under Act 250, as long as a person lives in the school district, they can file a complaint with the DPI. The DPI then reviews the complaint and chooses to dismiss it or take it to a hearing.
Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, drafted a bill to put those decisions back in the school board’s control.
“Every school district with an Indian name, logo or mascot will eventually come under fire,” Nass said.
Nass’s proposal was spurred by the Mukwonago school district’s attempts to fight a DPI ruling. He claimed Mukwonago could spend up to $80,000 on the hearings, fighting the process, and potentially changing its mascot.
“The Mukwonago school district and all citizens of Mukwonago do not believe it's discriminatory. I don't believe it's discriminatory,” Nass said. “And there is a difference, there is a difference.”
Rachel Byington is a Wisconsin Indian Education Association representative. She said there is no excuse, historical or otherwise, for what she sees as discriminating mascots.
“It reduces native people to a stereotype, and that's how people see us,” Byington said.
Byington said she wants all Wisconsin school districts to drop Native American references in their names. She added that the state process makes keeping local school board members and complainants safe from backlash from other community members.
“We find this offensive and we want it to end, and for people to keep saying, well we're honoring you, but yet the people say we don't feel it's an honor, there's a real mismatch in cultural understanding,” Byington said.
Four complaints have been filed since 2010 when the process was signed into law.
The Berlin district went to hearing in August 2011 and was ordered to change its mascot. A lawsuit brought on by a private company was just dismissed, prompting the state’s latest demands to switch the name and logo.
Mukwonago’s school district also went to hearing in August 2010. The Indians were ordered to change their mascot, but Nass said the district has been fighting that since the decision was made.
Osseo-Fairchild was ordered to change its name after a hearing in June 2010. That district went from the Chieftains to the Thunder the next year.
A complaint was filed in Kewaunee in July 2010, but the district voluntarily changed its name from the Indians to the Storm. The hearing was cancelled as a result.
Other districts have made voluntary changes. For instance, Poynette went from the Indians to the Pumas. Waunakee’s students are still the Warriors, but the superintendent said the district is using more W’s to represent their schools rather than Native American images.
More than 30 districts still maintain mascots, names, or logos referencing Native Americans, like the Fort Atkinson Blackhawks and Wisconsin Dells Chiefs.