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Local tribe reacts to 2 West Michigan schools changing mascot names from Indians and Redskins

Gun Lake Tribe says, "long overdue"
Posted at 7:20 AM, Nov 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-12 07:32:09-05

ALLEGAN COUNTY, Mich. — This year Cleveland changed their baseball team's name from the Indians to the Guardians. Last year, it was Washington's football team that changed their name from the Redskins to just the Washington Football Team. Now, two West Michigan school districts are ditching their Indian and Redskins mascots after conversations with local tribes about why the names are offensive to Native Americans.

The history, culture and artifacts of the Gun Lake tribe in West Michigan doesn't go back just a few generations.

“Thousands of years," Gun Lake Tribal Council Member George Jeff Martin explained.

Years of art and sacred items and animals, like the bald eagle.

“Those eagles are sacred to us as for what they did for our people in our creation story," Martin explained holding sacred bald eagle feathers.

Martin says it's these sacred artifacts that have now become a sort of mockery for schools and sports teams who use names associated with the tribes.

“Their intentions may have been to honor the local natives, but today that's evolved," Martin said. "It's not...that no more.”

Martin says he believes those school names have now turned into an exploitation of sacred traditions.

“It's all of the, I guess, the actions that go with it," he said. "The stereotypical stuff that you see, that's not us."

A few weeks ago Saranac Public Schools decided to retire their school mascot, the Redskins. A term seen as derogatory by the tribes.

"That's a name that wasn't created by us. It was created by who I'll say, is a dominant society. That was used as derogatory," Martin said.

Saranac Community Schools Superintendent Jason Smith says they reached out to local tribes to educate themselves on why the name was seen as derogatory and realized it wasn't the name that represented the district best.

“You could see that it was time to change," Smith said.

The school board unanimously voted for the name change. Now the search for a new name is in the works, it's a project Smith will oversee and says will include community and student involvement.

“We just want to make sure we do this right," he said.

Hartford Public Schools also announced the retirement of their name, the Indians, just a few weeks ago but has not returned FOX 17's request for comment.

In a community statement posted to Facebook, Superintendent Kelly Millin said in part, "We want to maintain the long history of pride and respect for which Hartford is known. The best way we can show that respect is listen to those who are telling us how to best honor them.”

“Come on over and get to meet us and talk to us and come to the source and find out why it is viewed as it is with us," Martin explained.

He invited other schools to reach out and have conversations with their tribes to understand the history of these names and why they're seen as disrespectful to Native Americans.

A few more Michigan schools remain with names like Indians and Redskins despite growing calls for change.