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USD 383 board votes to keep Indian, study options

By Dylan Lysen

Without a detailed plan and with possible funding cuts on the horizon, Dave Colburn said he could not support changing Manhattan High School’s Indian mascot.

But Colburn said he could not support the status quo either.

“Status quo means we went through all of this argument and effort for nothing if we just go back to the way we were,” he said. “We’ve got to come out of this having shown some progress.”

Colburn proposed a compromise the Manhattan- Ogden school board ultimately approved.

The board unanimously voted to retain the mascot while creating a committee to address at least four issues related to the Indian during its meeting Wednesday. About 30 members of the public attended the meeting, but weren’t allowed to speak before the board’s vote. There are normally fewer than five people present at a typical board meeting.

The committee will work from January to September to address the following points:

• Finding a portion of or an entire facility and scholarship to name for Frank Prentup, a former MHS coach, a descendant of the Tuscarora tribe and the man the mascot is meant to honor.

• Develop a teaching program and plan that educates students, faculty and community members about Native American history, religion and culture.

• Explore the creation of a mascot for students to “rally around” that is distinct from the Indian name and the image.

• Establish what the true costs would be and what the timeline would look like if the Indian name and image were retired.

The committee will be comprised of, but not limited to, those seeking to change the mascot and keep it the same, as well as students, teachers and administrators.

Colburn said his personal beliefs align more with ReImage MHK, the group advocating to change the Indian, but he could not vote to change because of the state’s $350 million budget hole that could lead legislators to cut money from K-12 education. He said the board also does not know how much it will cost to make a change and does not have any available options to change to yet.

A cost estimate provided by Eric Reid, assistant superintendent, showed a possible bill of $318,000, but a significant portion of that includes items the school district is likely to purchase in the near future regardless of the mascot, including upgrading the turf at Bishop Stadium and buying new team uniforms.

“We’ve heard some numbers, but we have no idea if they are high or low,” Colburn said. “This board can’t fiscally, prudently vote to change something when they have no idea what kind of fiscal note they are taking on.”

Aaron Estabrook agreed with Colburn, noting he would like to see Native American people on both sides of the issue work together before the board acts.

“A surprise that I had through this process is meeting the Native American members on both sides of the issue, and how willing they are to be engaged in a dialogue and how unwilling I am to get inthewayofthat,”hesaid.

“I think we did kind of skip a step, and that’s bringing those groups together to collectively work for a better solution.”

Estabrook also said that he could not vote to change something without knowing the exact cost to the district and what the next mascot would be.

“It’s incredibly hard for me to vote for something that does not exist,” he said. Before voting on the compromise, Darell Edie — referencing treaties broken between the U.S. government and Native American populations — said he would vote to retain the image because he didn’t “want to renege, once again, against anything we’ve done for the Native Americans.” “For those who want to know, I have walked, I have talked, and I even tried a few dances and ceremonies, thanks to my years in scouting that led me on a way to really try to understand the Native Americans in this country,” he said. “It is a fantastic group of people, and I am very, very sorry for how we treated them.”

Pat Hudgins and Leah Fliter said they would vote to change the mascot. Hudgins said she understood there is a financial issue related to the change, but the board does not have to spend the money immediately. “We’re not saying we have to have something done under a deadline,” she said. “It can be phased in slowly if we go with a change. It doesn’t have to all change at once.” Hudgins, who is African American, said the mascot was chosen about 75 years ago and the words and names people use change. She said ReImage members are asking for the school district to make another change.

“I may not look it, but I’m old enough that when I was little we were called negroes,” Hudgins said. “There is something in a name.” Fliter said she believed the board should “honorably retire” the mascot because it was intended as an honor to Prentup, but it is no longer appropriate to use an ethnic group to honor him. “This is specifically significant in the case of Native Americans who have subjected to genocidal efforts that very nearly succeeded in wiping out the very people we seek to honor,” she said. “We cannot say the same about other ethnic or cultural mascots like Vikings, crusaders, pioneers, Swedes, cowboys, warriors, pirates or, even, devils. “Our own evolving use of the Indian over the years, specifically phasing out the use of the Papoose designation at the junior high level and abandoning practices such as the tomahawk chop and other outdated practices, tells me we know the Indian (mascot) is problematic,” she continued.

Curt Herrman said the financial issue is also a problem, and he expects the state to cut funding for K-12. He said he believes the symbol represents what Prentup stood for, and students overwhelmingly said they wanted to keep the mascot. “It’s a tribute to Native Americans, and I don’t think it’s an insult,” he said. “It’s a tribute to civilizations that survived and thrived here for thousands of years before Europeans came to America.”

Board president Marcia Rozell said she was in favor of keeping the name, and thought compromise is a good solution. “We do need to move forward and come to some agreement tonight because we’ve spent a lot of time on this issue,” she said. The committee will bring its proposed changes to the board in September. Herrman said he supported the creation of the committee, but he knows the discussion is not over.

“I think we’re just kicking this down the road,” Herrman said. “We’re going to be in here a year from now doing the same thing. The exact same thing.”

Full presentations from MHS mascot public forum 2016 from Manhattan Mercury on Vimeo.

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