A bill filed in Massachusetts last week could put an end to the use of Native American mascots at public schools in the state. Acting on behalf of her constituents, State Senator Barbara L’Italien filed a bill that takes direct aim at Native American caricatures, disparaging terms, and references, The Boston Globereported.
According to The Globe, a bevy of schools throughout Massachusetts could be impacted by the legislation. Schools in the state with a Native American mascot include the Billerica Memorial High School Indians, Masconomet Chieftains, the Pentucket Sachems, the Taconic Braves, and North Quincy High where the mascot is an aggressive Indian with a spear.
L’Italien, a Democrat, has not publicly stated whether she supports the bill, but that she wishes provide her constituents the opportunity the debate this contentious topic, according to reports.
“One of my jobs as a state senator is to help constituents get the issues they care about before the Legislature. ... The lead sponsor is not me but was actually one of my constituents,” she said in a statement, The Globe reported. “I’m happy to make sure this group – and those who oppose the bill – have an opportunity to debate this idea in a public hearing.”
The constituents backing the bill come out of the small town of Tewskbury where the school mascot is the Tewksbury Redmen.
Supporters of keeping the Redmen name say it unifies the students and the community.
"It’s a source of pride and what brings us together as a school," student Briana Higgins told The Globe last year. "Being a Redmen is what our sports teams aspire to be and what our fans cheer."
In 2015, Colorado State House Representative Joe Salazar attempted to end the use of Native American mascots in his state, but the bill died in committee by one vote. Colorado has an estimated 30 schools with a Native American mascot.
Beyond the walls of state legislatures, school boards across the country, however, have successfully retired their Native American mascots.
The Lancaster Central District School Board in upstate New York voted unanimously to nix its 'Redskins' mascot, saying it was "a symbol of ethnic stereotyping" and said the school "cannot continue practices which are offensive and hurtful to others."
Twelve years ago, the American Psychological Association "called for the immediate retirement" of Native American mascots, arguing that such language and images have a detrimental impact on youths.
Meanwhile, the debate surrounding the Washington NFL team continues. In 2014, the team lost its trademark to the name after a federal judge ruled that the word is "disparaging" to Native Americans. Later that same year, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the law used to cancel the trademark was unconstitutional.
In an op-ed to The Globe, a Heather Leavell, a mother of two children who attend the Melrose public schools nine miles north of Boston, reiterated the need to retire Native American mascots.
"According to decades of social science research, for Native youth, mascots contribute to low self-esteem, poor academic performance, and hostile school environments," Leavell wrote. "For non-Natives, they promote a false understanding of indigenous culture, normalize insensitive behaviors, and make those exposed more likely to internalize stereotypes of other minorities."
Leavell added that there is no honor in using disparaging terms to reference Native Americans.
"As stereotypes, mascots do not accurately represent Native people, nor do they honor them. Mascots gloss over ugly truths of American history," she wrote.