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Battle over Indian mascots continues in Kansas

HIAWATHA, Kan. - In December 2000, Hiawatha School District USD 425 voted to retire American Indian mascots from the school's sports teams, but a new movement - "Bring Back the Pride" - is fighting to return the Redskins, Warriors and Braves names.

Chick Hale, a member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas, has been following the battle and in a letter to Indian Country Today, said the group trying "un-retire" the mascot names plans to do it by having candidates run for school board positions held by JoAnne Noll and Paula Starr who voted to retire the mascots.

Hale wrote that he spoke with employees at the Justice Department in Kansas City regarding an alleged confrontation between the opposing sides on the issue.

While Hale and Edmore Green of the Sac & Fox Tribe battle the possible restoration of mascot names in Hiawatha, the Kansas Support Group of the American Indian Movement continues its fight throughout Kansas to end to offensive mascot tradition.

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During the recent National Junior College basketball tournament, protesters put fliers on cars and protested outside the auditorium in Hutchison.

In an interview with The Associated Press, AIM spokeswoman Joni Tucker-Nisbeth said, "I know there are a lot of people across the country who aren't even aware that Native people are offended by this. There are those who are aware and still continue to use the offensive logos to be sure, but a lot of people aren't aware. This is just a small way to bring public awareness to people in Hutchinson from around the country."

Part of the problem in Kansas appears to be the fact few citizens in areas where American Indian mascots are used really understand the problem. With only four tribes in the state, all in the northeastern corner, few residents have day-to-day contact with Native Americans.

One man in a small Kansas town said he couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. "I thought it was to honor them," he said. "I didn't understand how demeaning they thought it was."

In the meantime, activist groups throughout the state are taking on the issue, one school district at a time, and say they believe educating the general public is their best weapon.