OKEMOS, Mich. — It's been an ongoing debate.
“It’s just about providing that positive learning environment for students of all races and all backgrounds,” said Jamie Stuck, chairperson for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi.
From high school mascots to professional sports, teams are making the decision to change logos that that objectify and stereotype Native Americans.
“We consider the ‘R’ word, the former mascot for the Washington football team," Stuck said. “Redman, chief, chieftains.”
Chiefs is among one of the most commonly used Native American high school mascot names in the United States, used by 107 schools.
Following an Okemos School Board meeting Monday night, that will go down to 106.
The Okemos district is not the first in Michigan to change its name.
“We ended up voting 7-0 from our board in November of 2016 to move on from the redskin mascot,” said Belding Area Schools Superintendent Brent Noskey.
Noskey said their mascot debate started with wrestling T-shirts.
“Some parents had bought shirts for the kids and they had a Native American headdress with the skeleton," Noskey said.
The superintendent prior to Noseky had a policy in place that only allowed for the use of the term and not imagery. Parents didn't agree.
“If we can’t embrace our mascot as is and use the imagery and use the term and not be embarrassed about doing so, then, either let us do that or change it,” Noseky said.
Belding held community forums where even alumni showed support of the change.
One man "came in wearing his redskin letter jacket from 1950 something and he said, ‘You know I was proud of wearing this at the time,'" Noseky said. "But he took his jacket off and said, 'The time has come to move on.'”
Belding became the Black Knights, but changing a mascot and logo can be costly to a school district.
“When it comes to apparel, when it comes to scoreboards, when it comes to changing the school signage, letterheads, stuff like that, it adds up,” Stuck said.
Stuck is also the chairperson for the Native American Heritage Fund Board.
“When we were able to come up with the Native American Heritage Fund, we weren’t trying to provide the problem, but we were trying to provide the solution to the problem,” Stuck said.
That solution was to give grants to schools wanting to change their mascots.
“We were the first school group to receive funding from that group and I think they wanted to make a statement and they wrote us a check for $335,000,” Noskey said.
Without the grant, Noseky said it could've taken the district five to six years to phase everything out. Instead, it took two.
Stuck said the reason the names chief and chieftain are offensive to Native American tribes is that they're not the correct terms.
“Chief is more of an English name," Stuck said. "We refer to chief as Ogema.”
What does the Okemos mascot name change mean for an area named after Chief Okemos?
“There isn’t any tribe out there that is asking for the change of the city or any of the plaques and statues that do honor Ogema Okemos,” Stuck said.
“We just want to make sure that whatever way our culture, our traditions, our values are portrayed, we want to make sure it’s done in a good way and a correct way,” he added.
Belding just entered their fifth year with a new mascot. Noskey said they made the right decision.
“I have no regrets on what we did," said Noskey. "I think it was the right thing to do and we’re a better place for it.”
Okemos is looking at an estimate of $427,000 to completely phase out the chieftain name and is considering applying for a grant through the Native American Heritage Fund.
No replacement names have been released, yet. The district hopes to transition to the new mascot by September of 2023.
- 'Not erasing our past': Okemos schools will get rid of Chieftain name
- Okemos schools committee recommends mascot change
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