The use of Native American mascots at public schools has again come into question as a Massachusetts bill proposes eliminating the practice, which Native Americans say mocks their culture.
Sen. Jo Comerford, a Northampton Democrat, refiled a Senate bill, SD 417, that would make the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education create regulations prohibiting public schools from using Native American epithets in team names, logos or mascots, as well as references to Native culture or specific tribes. Rep. Nika Elugardo, a Boston Democrat, and Tami Gouveia, an Acton Democrat, refiled the House version.
Native American leaders who for years have advocated for the bill say its a matter of increasing racial equity.
Native mascots hurt everyone, said Elizabeth Solomon of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag in a statement. Their negative effects on Native peoples are most evident but, because they promulgate and reinforce stereotypes about Native Americans, they are damaging to anyone who aspires to an equitable and just society.
The mascot bill is part of a larger agenda pushed by Native leaders in Massachusetts, Comerford told MassLive last month. Lawmakers passed another proposal under that agenda at the end of the legislative session the morning of Jan. 6, a bill that launched a commission to review and change the state seal.
The seal shows a hand holding a sword believed to belong to English militia leader Myles Standish hovering over the head of a Native person with the Latin motto that translates to, by the sword we seek peace. Gov. Charlie Baker signed the bill to review the seal and motto into law on Jan. 11, according to the Legislatures website.
The work to rethink the commonwealths seal is important, but its not the only thing we have to do, the Northampton Democrat said at the time. Native leaders have laid out a number of steps for us in the indigenous agenda. Theres this bill, theres a bill to ban Native mascots, theres a bill to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, so theres a number of things theyd want to see.
School officials in Pittsfield, Athol and other Massachusetts communities have retired athletic team mascots and teams, while others doubled down. In September, the Agawam City Council voted to keep the Agawam High Schools sports team name, The Brownies, as well as its caricature of a Native American as the mascot.
At least 26 schools in Massachusetts have mascots or logos that reference Native Americans.
Shawna Newcomb, a Mashpee Wampanoag tribal member who teaches at Hanover Public Schools, said she sees schoolchildren growing up seeing their heritage derided through mascots and logos.
It is nearly impossible for Indigenous students to thrive and feel confident in their skin when their heritage is mocked and continuously stereotyped by their school mascot, Newcomb said.
The bill would require the states school board to set a deadline for schools in violation of the regulations to choose a new athletic team name, logo or mascot.
Schools would be allowed to keep the old name, logo or mascot on its signs or marquees until the district is scheduled to replace those items under its maintenance schedules. That means any new marquee, sign or fixture would need the new name, logo or mascot.
Schools would be allowed to continue using uniforms or other materials with the old markers if they were bought before the deadline, according to the bill. But those schools would have to have picked a new name, logo or mascot and refrain from buying materials with the old name, logo or mascot. They also would have to refrain from replacing any signs or buying yearbooks with the old name, logo or mascot.
The bill states it does not prohibit Native American tribes identified by the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs from choosing a Native name or logo for a sports team, including tribal schools or intramural leagues.
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