By Travis Mounts, TSnews
On Nov. 10, the Kansas State Board of Education voted to recommend that Kansas schools change their Native American mascots.
The vote is a “strong recommendation” to K-12 non-tribal schools, asking them to “retire Indian themed mascots and branding as soon as possible.” The recommended time frame is no more than 3-5 years.
The vote affirms recommendations from the Kansas Advisory Council for Indigenous Education Working Group.
More than 20 Kansas schools still use mascots with names like Indians, Braves or Red Raiders, according to the Kansas News Service. That includes the Clearwater Indians and the Argonia Raiders.
Out of 10 State BOE members, seven voted for the measure, including Jim McNiece in the 8th District, which includes all of the TSnews coverage area. The district covers most of western and southern Sedgwick County and the northeast part of the county, all of Sumner, Harper and Cowley counties, and the western and southern parts of Butler County.
The only “no” vote was from Michelle Dombrosky in District 3, covering southern Johnson and northern Miami counties in the Kansas City area. Board members Jean Clifford and Ben Jones abstained. Clifford is from District 5, covering western and north-central Kansas. Jones is from District 7, covering parts of central and southern Kansas.
“We’re just asking them to start the conversation, do the research,” said board member Ann Mah. “When we say we don’t want bullying, we want equity, we want the best education for every child, then this absolutely fits with our mandates.”
Decisions will be local
If the Clearwater and Argonia school districts change their mascots, it will be because of local decision.
Dr. Rustin Clark, the superintendent for USD 359 Argonia, said the Argonia Board of Education members were scheduled to discuss the issue at their meeting on Tuesday night this week.
Action was not necessarily expected at the meeting. This week’s paper went to press as the meeting was taking place.
Clark noted he has not received any comments from the public, either for a change or in defense of the Raiders mascot.
“I haven’t heard anything either way,” he said.
For Argonia, a change in mascot might be a little bit easier to make than for some schools. The football team, which is a cooperative program with Attica High School, is known as the Titans. For the other AHS sports teams, one option could be to keep the Raiders name while changing the logo, to a pirate, for example. No plans have been made for any change.
Clearwater USD 264 superintendent Chris Cooper noted that the Clearwater Indians would have to make wholesale changes. There are no plans in the works to make any changes.
“We have not had conversations at the (school) board level at this time,” he said. “We just haven’t had that conversation.”
Cooper has led Clearwater schools for three years. In that time, he said he has received three emails asking for a change in mascot.
Some Kansas superintendents said the State BOE vote has brought a divisive topic to communities where there has not been much of a discussion.
School districts have noted that changing mascots could cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Changes would have to be made to fields and courts, to uniforms, to websites and signage, and more. Changes to artificial turf football/soccer fields and basketball courts, and to uniforms would likely be the highest cost.
Cooper said the decision is ultimately up to the patrons of a district and the board members they elect – not the administrators leading the districts.
“My job is to do what the community wants,” Cooper said. “I have faith that our community can have a civil discussion.”
State board of education not forcing the issue
Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said the board has no plans to tie mascots to a district’s accreditation. Those pushing for change say offensive mascots create a hostile learning environment, which goes against state guidelines on student well-being.
Jones said the state holds no sway over local districts on the matter of team mascots.
“One of my fears is that we pass this and nothing changes, in which case this has been an exercise in futility,” Jones said. “What if nobody changes? What then? Does this go away, or do we try something else?”
State BOE member Deena Horst said she supported the recommendation because she graduated from Clearwater High School and now recognizes that the school’s Indians mascot is derogatory and hurtful.
“They now do the tomahawk chop and other things that are demeaning,” Horst said. “It’s wrong. … We ought to be ashamed.”
Horst represents District 6, which includes the Topeka, Manhattan, Wamego, Lawrence and Emporia school districts, as well as a number of smaller districts.
Alex Red Corn, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Kansas State University, says mascots that portray Native Americans as savages hurt not only the students at those schools, but anyone who competes against them.
“I was sitting in an Applebee’s, and the Liberal Redskins came into town,” said Red Corn, a member of the Osage Nation. “A whole bus full of Liberal Redskins-themed stuff was surrounding us at the restaurant, and my kids were there, and there was a level of discomfort.
“When people go to other communities, that discomfort and what happens because of those branding practices,” he said, “it ripples outward.”
The advisory group chaired by Red Corn wants the state school board to review its policies on how school mascots might hurt students.
The group includes representatives from the four federally recognized tribes in Kansas – the Kickapoo, Sac & Fox, Iowa and Prairie Band Potawatomi. They’re urging schools to retire Native American-themed mascots within five years.
“There are so many people that have just not stopped to think about what this is saying to someone else, how this is hurting someone else,” said Betty Arnold, a state board member from Wichita. “And ignorance is not an excuse.”
Other schools in the area or that compete against teams from the TSnews area include the Andale Indians and Medicine Lodge Indians.
Wichita North High School dropped the Redskins mascot following a 6-0 vote by the Wichita School Board. The term Redskins is considered to be a racial epithet. For the time being, the school has kept its logo featuring a shield, drum and feather.
Four schools in the Shawnee Mission School District, including Shawnee Mission High School, have dropped Indian-related mascots.
Two National Football League teams have changed names. The Cleveland Indians are now the Cleveland Guardians, and the Washington Redskins became the Washington Football Team before adopting Commanders as its mascot this season. A number of colleges have changed names in recent years. A move by the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 2005 bans teams from displaying “hostile or abusive” names, mascots and images during post-season play, and prohibits those schools from hosting tournaments. Waivers have been given to a handful of schools, generally with the consent of a nearby tribe. Those schools include the Florida State Seminoles, Central Michigan Chippewas, and Utah Utes.
There have been calls for several years for the Kansas City Chiefs to change their name and get rid of Native American-inspired imagery and acts, such as the “Tomahawk Chop” performed by fans.
Editor’s note: This story contains additional reporting from the Kansas News Service.