State News

Despite vote against resolution banning Native American mascots in high schools, activists still push for change

While 30 Wisconsin high schools still use Native American mascots, activists are hopeful for change after 18 school boards and the 11 Native American tribes cosigned a resolution banning the supposedly offensive representation.

While 30 Wisconsin high schools still use Native American mascots, activists are hopeful for change after 18 school boards and the 11 Native American tribes cosigned a resolution banning the supposedly offensive representation.

Image By: Max Homstad

Wisconsin school boards voted against a ban of Native American mascots at the Wisconsin Association of School Boards’ meeting Jan. 22, despite a lot of activist support.

While all 11 of Wisconsin’s federally recognized tribes and 18 different Wisconsin school boards — an unusually large amount of cosigners — signed in support of the resolution to ban the use of Native American names, the WASB still voted 218-101 against the resolution. 

“I figured [the delegates] would go to the data and leave their personal opinions out of it,” said Tricia Zunker, Wausau School Board president and member of the Ho-Chunk Nation to The Post-Crescent. She is also the Democratic candidate for the 7th Congressional District seat.

There are currently 28 school districts that still use a race-based mascot. Many of these logos depict images borrowed from Native American cultures such as sacred objects or traditional dress.

The efforts to ban the use of Native American mascots, symbols, images, logos and nicknames began in August when Wausau's school board authored the one of the first state resolutions to do so.

Despite the failed resolution, some activists — like Barbara Munson, chairperson of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force — were happy the process drew the public’s attention.

“I was actually pleasantly surprised throughout much of the process, starting out with Wausau school district deciding to bring forward a resolution in the first place,” Munson said. “It brought in a lot of school districts that have never had an opinion aired in this dialogue before.”

The American Psychological Association (APA) called for the retirement of American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities in 2005 based on “a growing body of social science literature that shows the harmful effects.” 

Many of the opponents of the resolution are not speaking against this claim, but argue there are other things for the WASB to focus on.

“I don't know that it's a good use of our time to debate the mascot/logo here, and instead focus on local control,” Erika Conner of the Mukwonago School Board said

Munson said she thinks this idea is “ridiculous” and impacts multiple communities, not just the local schools.

“If anything, it’s a case of interscholastic racial discrimination,” Munson said. “No mascot is intended to impact only its own community. Mascots go with teams outside of their own borders and they impact everybody that they meet.”

However, Zunker stated that it is not an issue of local decision-making.

“It is never good educational policy to stereotype against an entire race of people,” Zunker said.

The Oneida Nation Vice Chairman Brandon Yellow Bird Stevens released a statement that said the ban of Native American mascots will only be enacted through policy change.

Despite the need for a legislative change, Munson made it clear the Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force will continue to do what it can to educate and support the ban of Native American mascots.

“As far as what should happen in the future with this dialogue through WASB, I hope it continues,” Munson added. “I think it’s a really interesting start — 101 school districts stepping forward and saying that they felt that mascots should be changed is a real positive thing.”

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