The Lakeland Union High School Board of Education on Oct. 28 voted to endorse a resolution proposed by the Wausau School District urging the Wisconsin Association of School Board to consider legislation requiring school districts to retire Native American mascots.
The resolution states the continued use of Native American mascots, symbols, images, logos and nicknames “undermines the educational experiences of all communities” and “has a negative impact on other communities by allowing for the perpetuation of stereotypes and stigmatization of another cultural group.”
At last month’s school board meeting, the board elected not to endorse the resolution, citing concern over the state being able to dictate whether a school should change its mascot, rather than it being a district’s decision.
According to district administrator Rob Way, who had met with tribal council earlier that day, “the symbolism, the gesture” to vote in favor of the resolution would be viewed as a positive thing.
“It would look like — and this is just reporting from the committee — a support for our Native American students, to be on board with this,” Way said.
Board member Gary Smith reiterated that the district’s reluctance to endorse the resolution was more so with putting the power in the state’s hands and potentially jeopardizing Native American schools being told to change their mascots.
“Having talked to, listened to the community, I think at least my vote’s gonna be that we support that resolution,” Smith said. “At least we had a chance to discuss and to let them know, more or less, what Lakeland was sort of thinking about last month.”
According to an informational sheet distributed alongside the resolution, 65 Wisconsin high schools used, at some point, a race-based Native American mascot. Of those 65, 34 have since retired the mascot, while 31 are still in use.
Though neither LUHS or Lac du Flambeau Public School, whose respective mascots are the “Thunderbirds” and the “Warriors,” were on the list, there were some concerns raised over whether the districts would be able to maintain their mascots.
“All it really takes is one person, and even just to say, ‘That offends me,’” Smith said. “It doesn’t have to be a Native person either.”
Over the course of the discussion, several board members expressed support for the Lac du Flambeau community rather than the resolution itself, whereas others maintained it was a community’s right to decide, rather than the state’s.
“It shouldn’t be a state resolution,” board member Barry Seidel said. “I feel like it should be up to the communities.”
Seidel said the district has a “pretty good” working relationship with Lac du Flambeau, and he would “hate to have a law stand in the way of that for other communities.”
“I’m just cautionary anytime there’s a political movement or a law that’s put in place to govern relationships,” he said. “I think it’s more valuable if those relationships can be forged between those two entities rather than being told to go one way or the other.”
Board member Shari Nimsgern said she was concerned over the state deciding what constituted a Native American symbol, rather than allowing that to be determined by the district.
Nimsgern said the feeling of the groups she had spoken with was it was “important to send a message saying that we support the Native American students in their feelings” and there was a lot of “hurt that ran deep.”
“In their view, us not supporting didn’t recognize that,” Nimsgern said. “So, they didn’t seem very concerned with our concern with the state having that authority to do that,” she said.
“I still do not support the resolution, but, if the Lac du Flambeau community — I would vote to support them,” board member Barb Peck said.
Peck made the distinction that she didn’t support the resolution, but if she voted “yes,” it was in support of the Lac du Flambeau community and the district’s Native American students.
Board member Pam Carroll, via teleconference, said she hoped that, in supporting the resolution, it wouldn’t interfere with either district’s mascot.
“When you put the power to the state, they dictate, and state doesn’t necessarily have anything on the reservation; however, it does for the kids that attend Lakeland, and ... I hope that all of that research has been completed prior to us actually voting on this,” Carroll said.
The board voted 6-2 in favor of the resolution, with Seidel and Berg voting in opposition. Board members Sarah Kemp and Pam Carroll voted via teleconference and board president Ed Schaub was absent.
Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected]