Resolution aims to make Native American mascots a thing of the past

WI Dells District calls issue 'complex'
Resolution aims to make Native American mascots a thing of the past

Dozens of schools across the state may have to change their Native American-related mascots if statewide efforts succeed.

Madison and Sun Prairie school boards have approved a resolution originating from the school board in Wausau asking the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to advocate for legislation requiring districts to retire Native American mascots.

According to the resolution, 31 of 421 public school districts in the state still use Native American mascots, symbols, images, logos or nicknames.

As students register for a new school year, one display in the Wisconsin Dells High School remains unchanged.

“The authentic headdress, I think, shows how we represent ourselves and does so in a great manner,” Wisconsin Dells School District administrator Terry Slack said.

In a school that teaches the Ho-Chunk language, it’s a nod to the Ho-Chunk Nation, and the school’s mascots, the Chiefs.

“It’s part of local history here,” Slack said. “Our Ho-Chunk families, many of them, not all of them, but many of them are very proud we use the mascot Chiefs.”

One mother at school registration said she feels honored her people are represented by the Chiefs.

Slack said about 10 years ago the district reviewed how to use the mascot appropriately with the Ho-Chunk Nation and keeps that conversation going.

“We just want to make sure we really respect their culture as much as possible,” Slack said.

According to the Ho-Chunk Nation, eight years ago its legislature supported local initiatives to allow tribal memberships affected by this type of situation to handle it at their level.

“They didn’t want others in the area to overstep the position of the tribe as a sovereign; and if there was said history with the school; it could be determined to keep the name,” HCN representative Forrest Funmaker wrote in a statement. “The legislature did support the ban of all mascots in all areas as suggested by WIEA (Wisconsin Indian Education Association) standards.”

“We have to be cognizant of the fact that it’s not just one tribe in one area we have to be concerned about,” said Tricia Zunker, Wausau’s school board president.

Zunker is behind a resolution to retire Native American mascots.

“It seems like this is an obvious resolution to introduce,” she said.

As a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation herself, Zunker is surprised by how many schools still use native imagery and don’t want students to be exposed to stereotypes.

“It affirms or reaffirms inaccurate conceptions of native people,” she said. “It establishes stereotypes and perpetuates incorrect images of Native American students.”

Slack said if the Ho-Chunk Nation came to the school asking for a mascot change, he’s all ears.

“Because they are a part of the fabric of our community, we’re going to take that conversation on when they come to us. If there’s anything that pops up in the meantime, we’ll certainly engage in that conversation,” he said. “We want all of our students to be comfortable in our school district.”

Slack added that he believes the matter is a local control issue because of the complexity.

“It’s more than just a simple solution,” he said.

Pointing to research, Zunker said the solution is change.

“This ends up resulting in negative self-esteem for native students, and it also forces nonnative students to participate in culturally abusive behaviors simply by attending those schools or sporting events where certain chants or actions occur,” she said. “It establishes an unwelcome and hostile learning environment. It’s not a matter of personal opinion.”

News 3 Now contacted schools in the area with Native American themed mascots. Waunakee superintendent Randy Guttenberg said as the Waunakee Warriors, the district has been phasing out native imagery over the years.

As district administrator in Fort Atkinson, home of the Blackhawks, Dr. Lynn Brown said the resolution is something the board will discuss.

The resolution will be submitted to the WASB by the Sept. 15 deadline with the goal of it being advanced and adopted by the annual Delegate Assembly in January.

The resolution could direct WASB to support legislation of a certain type, but WASB government relations director Dan Rossmiller said the group itself cannot introduce legislation.

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