Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 11, 2013

James Cook: Complaint over mascots misguided

Sports writer

— Forest Area Schools does it right.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights doesn't.

The MDCR on Friday filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education that would threaten withholding federal education funding to schools who use American Indian mascots and nicknames.

Aside from the ridiculous overly-general nature of the complaint, it's also kind of sloppy.

It lists 35 schools — including the Cheboygan Chiefs — leaving out numerous others, such as the Forest Area Warriors, Petoskey Northmen, Rogers City Hurons and Manistee Chippewas and not explaining why.

Now, schools like Forest Area — which has a large mural in its gymnasium featuring American Indians in deer-skin clothing along a river bank and in birch-bark canoes and one holding a spear — went about things the right way.

"We've never had any problems with it," Forest Area athletic director Ron Stremlow said. "We had the tribe from Williamsburg come over and check it out. They checked everything we had out — the Warrior. It's all in good taste. We made sure everything was approved and correct, changed a couple signs."

Mark Dombroksi, superintendent for Cheboygan Area School District, said in an Associated Press report he believes the district has used the Chiefs mascot since the district started in the 1890s, adding that the community viewed the mascot a "sense of pride to the local community."

Sure, some things can be done the wrong way. Then go after individual offenders instead of painting everyone as a racist. Just because a few schools may use American Indian imagery in inappropriate ways doesn't mean they all do. And to try to ban them all instead of looking at individual cases seem like a knee-jerk reaction — not to mention lazy.

The complaint claims that using the mascots negatively affects learning, citing a study about the impact of racist stereotypes on Indigenous People. So students being exposed to other people's heritage is now racism?

Having attended a university with a Native American mascot, I don't see the negativity associated with a mascot that's handled with dignity. Perhaps I'm wrong. Obviously, I'm not a Native American myself. But how is being portrayed as a warrior a bad thing? Doesn't Traverse City Central's Trojan mascot do the same thing for Greek people? Or Suttons Bay's Norsemen logo for Scandinavians?

However, the Chippewa mascot at Central Michigan University is used with respect and the school works hand-in-hand with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe to make sure it stays that way. It didn't always used to be that way. Decades ago, some of CMU's logos and mascots were at best insensitive. The school since removed the Florida State-like spear and feather off football helmets, among other changes.

It seems as if American Indian history is being marginalized enough as it is.

Why is it the MDCR wants to erase as many references to Native Americans as possible? Indians have already been minimized in our text books. Maintaining these mascots keeps a race of people who have been wronged so many times in the conscious thought of Americans — native or not.

The report even contradicts its own complaint at times, stating, "People who wear Indians, Chiefs, Warriors or even 'Redskins' sweatshirts do so to show pride in, and support for, their team. They are pleased to declare themselves to be, and delighted to be recognized as being 'Indians.' They see 'Warrior' and 'Redskin' as good things to be."

It goes on to compare an American Indian logo wearing a head dress to making an imaginary "American" mascot by turning Uncle Sam into a Yosemite Sam type of logo brandishing two pistols or Homer Simpson pointing a gun.

There's a point there. It's to not make the use of the mascot offensive. That's all that's needed here.

Take a cue from what Forest Area did, and have the designs be OK'd by the neared tribe.

Instead, the MDCR tries to over reach and runs to the federal government.

And why is it this mascot purge is not sought for other backgrounds?

Where's the outrage over the Fightin' Irish? The Norsemen? The Holland Dutch? The Caledonia Fighting Scots?

There isn't any. And there shouldn't be.

Being of Scottish descent, I'm proud that a school would name their teams after our heritage, even if Alma stereotypes every Scotsman as wearing a kilt.

Wait, I have more than one kilt myself. Stereotype debunked.

Who's eager for PETA to get involved with the use of animal mascots?