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Kansas district votes to drop Indian mascots

HIAWATHA, Kans. - Local school board members voted 4-3 to drop the mascot names of Redskins, Warriors and Braves.

Although the school previously stopped using Indian representations at various school events, they continued to use Indian mascot names. The Dec. 11 decision followed several months of debate within the community.

For six weeks a review committee of parents, students and teachers wrestled with the issue. Both sides were adamant about why changes did or didn't need to be made, but in the end the close vote by school board members decided the matter.

Kickapoo Chairwoman Nancy Bear said she was pleased to see that the city had the courage to make changes. "I heard about it on the news today. I think there will be a lot of Native Americans who will be pleased that the city of Hiawatha took action and changed the mascot. There are several Native Americans who are offended by it."

Board members gave various reasons for their decision. In general, those who voted to not change the mascots said most Indian people didn't find them offensive. They cited a survey that showed only seven of 50 Native Americans found the mascots offensive, which they maintained shows that only a small percentage had problems with the names Redskins, Braves and Warriors.

Opposing board members said they believed no one should be offended by the names used as school mascots and voted to end their use. They said they believed the mascots were derogatory and didn't fit with the district's mission because of the stereotyping.

"It's a stereotype. Redskins are not what the Native Americans are today," board member JoAnn Noll said.

Other committee members said they believed the students should have a mascot they can use on posters and uniforms, something they haven't been able to do for some time.

A complaint was filed Dec. 1 with the U.S. Justice Department by Joni Tucker-Nisbeth to force the school district to cease using the name Redskin.

New mascots will be decided on sometime in January. In the meantime, groups opposing mascots are considering the changes a victory.

Cornel Pewewardy, professor from the University Kansas, said he was pleased to hear that one more mascot name had fallen. "This is really a serious issue. It is an issue of human rights."

Pewewardy also said there are still a lot of schools in Kansas which use Indian mascots for their teams, adding action by the Hiawatha school board showed progress.

He said he believes many team mascots may have started because of honor or respect, but after being stereotyped by Hollywood, those perceptions changed and what was once an honor became a caricature degrading to Native Americans. Pewewardy said he hopes other communities will take their lead from Hiawatha.

"This decision comes from a lot of working together," Pewewardy said. "It is a very positive sign how communities can work together to develop consciousness and educational awareness. It's not politically correct, that's too easy to say. It's about equity and respect."