WELLS — I am a resident of Wells who opposes the continued use of Native American imagery in association with Wells High School’s “Warriors” nickname and mascot. The school district’s Mascot Advisory Committee has graciously taken under review a position paper I prepared on this issue; I note below my main concerns.

Wells’ logo is a stoic, stately and dignified image of an Abenaki warrior. This contrasts commendably and significantly with the grinning cartoon-like logo of Chief Wahoo recently, and correctly, scheduled to be eliminated by the Cleveland Indians. Still, and especially when linked to the nickname “Warriors,” the Wells imagery is racially stereotypical.

The mascot and nickname convey that the major and, perhaps, only characteristic of Native Americans is their supposed prowess in war. The singular focus on their fighting skills is misleading and oversimplified, the very essence of a racial stereotype. Surely, Native Americans were brave in battle. But often they also were advocates for peace and cooperation, loyal and loving family members and neighbors, and careful stewards of the land who generously welcomed those who peacefully immigrated to their shores.

The Abenaki specifically have been described as a people who sought to resolve conflict through consensus rather than combat. Their traditional model of governance calls for the “Three Truths” to be considered in all debates: “Peace: Does it preserve the peace? Righteousness: Is it morally correct? Power: Does it preserve the integrity of the group?” Representations of a people concerned with peace, righteousness, morality and integrity are distorted when they are reduced to a reflection only of prowess in war.

There is also significant evidence that this stereotyping causes harm. Lakota writer Taté Walker, for one of many, points to the dehumanization that many Native Americans feel in confronting these stereotypes, noting, “Someone is a human being. Something is a mascot.”

In 2001, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called on all non-Indian schools to eliminate Indian nicknames and mascots, concluding: “Schools have a responsibility to educate their students; they should not use their influence to perpetuate misrepresentations of any culture or people.”

And in a statement unintentionally but nonetheless seemingly directed straight at my community, Walker notes: “Even something as innocuous as the word ‘warrior,’ which can describe fighters from many cultures, can be considered an Indian mascot when you couple it with a feather or color the letters red and black.”

I am confident the people of my community have not intended to harm or dishonor anyone in using Native American logos. The community’s very willingness to openly and directly revisit this issue at this time is a testament to its good will. Yet benevolent intentions taken alone are not sufficient to justify continued use of the logos. As NPR science journalist Shankar Vedantam says, the racial stereotyping of Native Americans “is not being driven, necessarily, by intentional hatred or animosity.” He tellingly adds, however, “You can give harm or you can cause harm without necessarily intending harm.”

My position remains that Wells High School’s use of the nickname “Warriors” in conjunction with the Native American mascot imagery constitutes a clear case of racial stereotyping. Accordingly, I would support the following changes:

The Native American mascot at the school and on any school-endorsed apparel should be removed, and all efforts made to guarantee that such logos are never reintroduced.

The nickname “Warriors” should be continued. All steps should be taken, however, to disassociate the nickname from Native Americans and broaden the meaning of the term. With the deft guidance of the high school’s leadership and staff, all Wells students and community members should be encouraged to be “Warriors.” This can only occur if the revered term is applied equally to those of either sex or of any race or culture who are courageous in confronting life’s struggles, be they in war, surely, but also in the boardroom, the school, the family, the nurturing and raising of children, and any other notable positive endeavor.

It would help in this regard, to continue to expand the notion of who are worthy of the name “Warriors.” This means giving appropriate recognition and respect to participants in all sports and, at the same time, respecting and honoring competitors in other arenas, including but not limited to band, spelling and geography bees, chess, debating, drama and Odyssey of the Mind.

Native Americans should never again be reduced to serving as a mascot. We can all be “Warriors.” We do not need racially stereotypical Native American mascots or imagery to remind us of who we are.

 

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