Below is my statement I sent to the Nashoba Regional School District Committee. I’m really pleased that they voted to change the mascot. I was quoted in the meeting and on social media…

I am Indigenous woman living in Stow with my young family. I am Metis and Anishinaabe and am a member of the Manitoba Metis Federation.  Not all Indigenous peoples are the same but there are overlapping cultural traditions of my nation and the Nipmuc people.

I have been following the online debate on changing the NRHS mascot and name. This is a very heated topic and I have been deciding if I wanted to make a public statement.

Racism toward Indigenous people is normalized, so much so that many people do not see it as racism at all. Racist stereotypes of Indigenous people are seemingly ingrained into the psyche of people starting in childhood, some unintentional, some direct.

Most of this Native imagery is constructed and controlled by non-Natives. While there is a constant omnipresence of such imagery, it is severely lacking real Native representation. People see more Native depictions created by non-Natives in media than they do of real Native people. This is how negative stereotypes and misconceptions are formed.

Professional sports teams as well as thousands of schools use Native-themed mascots and names. Schools are often where children are first introduced to these acceptable, normalized forms of racism; they learn that what would be considered inappropriate and racist to other races and cultures doesn’t apply to Indigenous people for some reason.

Supporters will say mascots “honor” us. But when actual Indigenous people say otherwise, the same people “honoring” us will often dismiss us or start arguments. These racist portrayals of Indigenous peoples used under the pretense of honor is the norm — a tradition.

Following the discussion online I’ve seen people say it is not a big deal, we’re too sensitive, and that we should worry about bigger issues. What many don’t comprehend is that all of these issues concerning Indigenous people and Indigenous identity actually connect and come full circle. When we are seen as fictional characters, it dehumanizes us; when we’re not seen as people, the potential for violence toward us increases. It’s not “just a mascot” when these mascots perpetuate harmful stereotypes and actually generate more racist sentiments about Indigenous people. Mascots have been shown to have a negative impact on the self-esteem of Indigenous children. Indigenous students report that when they attend schools with Native mascots or team names, they are often victims of bullying. Native mascots misrepresent the varied, distinct tribes and nations spread across the Americas into one cliché mockery.

Real Native clothing, or regalia, is often sacred to us and carries meaning. It’s offensive to see our once-forbidden customs and sacred elements pilfered and modified for entertainment.

There’s genuine harm in these actions whether it’s micro-aggressions, appropriation, stereotypes, subtle or overt racism, they all hurt us. Non-Indigenous people do not get to define or decide what is or isn’t racist or harmful to Indigenous people or the degree of relevance of certain issues.

We are not mascots, we are not costumes, we are not fads. We are not too sensitive or petty because these things all have real impacts and implications.

To dismantle these ingrained, acceptable methods of practiced racism takes work and time.

The prevailing ignorance about Indigenous people does not come from individual failings but rather from the systemic erasure of Indigenous people from K-12 education, mainstream news, and pop culture.

Yet the research shows that the lack of exposure to realistic, contemporary, and humanizing portrayals of Indigenous people creates a deep and stubborn unconscious bias in the non-Indigenous mind. Ingrained in this unconscious bias is the idea that Indigenous people are not real or even human.

Another argument from the online discussions I’ve seen is that individual people claiming Indigenous ancestry have said they are not offended by the name therefore nothing should be done. But the Nipmuc Tribal Council has made several statements asking for the name change. They have stated that the mascot, the depiction of sacred items (arrow and headdress) and the name Chieftain are offensive.

I think non-Indigenous people do not understand that the Tribal Council is not a dozen people speaking for themselves but are the elected Tribal Government of the Nipmuc Nation, a state-acknowledged tribe. They represent the Nipmuc people and are the voice on a wide range of tribal activities and concerns including the use of mascots.

Also, when a person claims to have Indigenous heritage, they will tell you who they are and where they are from. They will tell you what Nation they are from. They will be involved with their people. They will know their clan and they will tell you who their family is. A person claiming Indigenous identity should be able to give information about their affiliation. It is the way Indigenous people identify themselves to each other. In this way we hold each other accountable.  If someone tells you “my great grandmother was a Cherokee princess” it is pretty clear they have no people to speak for.  Among Indigenous people our heritage is our credibly and our community is our resource.

Ignoring Chiefs and tribal councils when they say stop using ethnic related mascots, symbols and nicknames demonstrates that you don’t care about Indigenous people and the name was never about honoring them.

Changing the name should not take away anyone’s fond memories of being on a sports team. Small changes are important, and this is a tangible step in creating an inclusive community.  Why water down something that is offensive when you can create something new to be proud of?

There was a point in time the school could say the name was chosen to be an honor. That it wasn’t intended to be offensive. That having Native-themed mascots, memorabilia and pretending to be Indians for school spirit wasn’t supposed to be dehumanizing and normalizing racism to their students. But that time is gone.

Keeping something because it’s tradition and the way things are in the face of new information is wrong. Isn’t it better for a school to show their students that an important part of learning is changing when you are given new information?

Here is an opportunity to create new traditions of treating all people including Indigenous people as human beings.