It seems every year mascot controversies sprout across America, and the first this fall is growing in Amesbury, Mass.
Following concerns voiced by students, parents and others, Amesbury superintendent Gary Reese announced his plan to form a committee for the evaluation of the high school’s “Indian” mascot, according to The Salem News.
“This is not necessarily saying that we are going to change it,” the second-year superintendent told the paper. “But we need to take a look at it and make sure that it is a respectful and an appropriate mascot.”
This is no small undertaking. Featuring staff, students, parents and community members, the committee will conduct public forums, questionnaires and reviews of a potential mascot change’s financial impact. According to The Salem News, a new mascot would require alterations to school uniforms and the gym floor, among other changes.
However, adidas announced in November 2015 an initiative to offer financial and design support for “any high school in America that wants to change their logo or mascot from potentially harmful Native American imagery.”
Last summer, 2012 Amesbury graduate Bryer Sousa approached the school committee with concerns about the mascot, and in July 2015 the Daily News of Newburyport (Mass.) published a letter to the editor from Sousa under the headline “Time for Amesbury to get rid of Indian mascot.” The following is an excerpt from Sousa’s letter:
“While the use of the ‘Amesbury Indian’ may seem innocent to those of us who have not been victimized by way of Dysconscious Racism and cultural violence, the fact remains that one of Amesbury’s own educational institutions still prides itself upon a mascot that perpetuates a stereotype that is truly inconsistent with the past and current experience of First Nations People, i.e., Native Americans.
“For those of you who initially reject my plea to cease and desist the use of the ‘Amesbury Indian,’ I encourage you to turn your attention toward the scholarly work pertaining to the use of Native American ‘images’ as sports symbols and school mascots. In 2001, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called for ‘an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native schools,’ writing, ‘They [Native American images] are particularly inappropriate and insensitive in light of the long history of forced assimilation that American Indian people have endured in this country.'”
Sousa’s suggestion was met with much of the same public disdain that attempts to question Amesbury’s mascot faced in the past. This 2014 comment posted on Twitter under the hashtag #KeepTheIndians summarizes that sentiment:
In January, Reese acknowledged a need to explore use of Native American imagery as a mascot. “We certainly need to evaluate how we are being respectful or disrespectful to individuals,” he told the Daily News. In response, North American Indian Center of Boston executive director Joanne Dunn applauded Reese for continuing the conversation.
The Amesbury News published another letter from Sousa urging the school to reconsider the mascot in March:
“I’m frequently offered a rebuttal that the mascot somehow ‘honors’ Native Americans. In turn, I would not only like to reiterate the fact that the notion of the mascot being honorable remains contested by the largest advocacy coalition of Native people, the National Congress of American Indians, but is also condemned by the American Psychological Association, the United States Commission on Civil Rights, and the Society of Indian Psychologists quoted above.
“I would also like to put forth an objection to the notion that the call for the Amesbury High School administration to retire its current mascot is somehow a form of ‘political correctness.’ My efforts have not been focused upon a private institution that has chosen to make use of a racist and discriminatory logo. Rather, I am calling upon a publicly financed place of learning to take note of the psychological and scientific literature, which suggests that we ought to retire the mascot due to its measurably detrimental consequences previously mentioned.”
Now, five months later, Reese announced plans to form a committee that will review those potential consequences.
More than 400 high schools across the country retain “Indians” as a mascot. Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington all passed legislation outlawing the use of Native American mascots, and the South Dakota High School Athletic Association urged its member schools to eradicate such imagery this past January. Closer to Amesbury, the Andover (Mass.) Golden Warriors replaced their Indian head logo with an eagle in 1995. Nearby Pentucket Regional in West Newbury, Mass., conducted a similar school committee symposium in July to debate the school’s “Sachems” mascot.