Kansas BOE hears statewide push to retire Native American-themed mascots
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - At its meeting Tuesday, the Kansas State Board of Education heard a statewide push to retire the use of Native American-themed mascots. In the last few years, several Kansas school districts rebranded after dropping the use of Native mascots. This includes Wichita North High School that dropped “Redskins” from its branding.
Currently, nearly 30 school districts in Kansas use American-Indian mascots with names like Indians, Braves, Warriors and Chieftains, often accompanied by Native-themed imagery. What the state board of education heard Tuesday would ask but not require these schools to retire their mascots.
Members of Kansas Native American tribes are among groups seeking to end the use of American Indian mascots.
“I understand that change is hard,” said Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Chairman Joseph Rupnick. “We’ve always been Indians and we’re going to be Indians. They have no idea what it is to be an Indian. They have no idea what it is to walk in anybody’s shoes. Yet here we are with those folks trying to tell us how we’re supposed to be.”
The official recommendation for change comes from the Kansas Advisory Council for Indigenous Education the Kansas State Board of Education formed earlier this year to make sure the needs indigenous students are met and that education around Native Americans is accurate. Part of that includes taking up a discussion around mascots.
“Blatantly racist depictions let me know that my opinions aren’t valid and that what I have to say is not being taken into consideration,” said indigenous student Georgia Blackwood, a recent high school graduate. “I didn’t feel respected as an athlete. I didn’t feel respected as a student.”
The working group’s recommendations are for American-Indian-themed mascots to be retired as soon as possible but does consider this could take time. The group also is looking to provide a support network and look at funding opportunities to help schools with this transition. The working group points to research they say shows these mascots reinforce stereotypes and don’t inform or educate about how American Indians actually live and impact indigenous students’ self-esteem.
“We know that teachers and school leaders mean well but the research shows us these practices are harmful and they have no place in our schools,” Dr. Alex Redcorn with the Kansas Advisory Council for Indigenous Education Working Group.
Tuesday was a discussion on the recommendation, but the state BOE could vote on a resolution on the issue next month. The board does not have the authority to make school districts change their mascots. That would be up to the local boards of education. The recommendation for changes also includes state colleges and universities. Potential changes there would go before the Kansas Board of Regents.
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