As the school board in Manhattan gets ready to debate the Indian mascot issue, a lawsuit in Colorado is making a point I made in this space several months ago. I again think it’s worth your consideration.
That lawsuit, filed by a Native American advocacy organization, contends that eliminating Indian mascots diminishes Native American history and culture. They say that getting rid of mascots and imagery means that non-Native people will lose a chance to learn more about those subjects.
I recognize that this is a complicated topic, and that many perspectives are valid. I do think it’s worth thinking clearly about the point that this group is making, because I believe it is true.
Let’s just say, for instance, that Manhattan High becomes, oh, the Wolves. Or the Bison. The Gators. Whatever. Do you really believe local students would pay much attention anymore to matters related to Native American history and culture?
There’s just no way. Out of sight, out of mind.
Having the mascot and imagery keeps it in front of students’ eyes, and in their minds. If it goes away, so does the attention. Students now have a means by which they can personally connect to Native American culture — they see themselves, in at least some manner, as Indians. They connect with that culture, which they view with some pride. It’s a positive connection.
“Indians” is not the term we use for Native Americans in general at the moment, but the reality is that terminology will change and change and change back. It always does. The lawsuit in Colorado contends — with some justification, I think — that Native Americans can actually reappropriate the use of “Indians” and so forth to broaden perspectives and educate.
Manhattan has a direct connection to Native American culture — there was a large settlement of the Kansa just east of town, called Blue Earth. That’s why we have Blue Earth Plaza, and why we have the statue at the Bluemont roundabout, and so on. The school district needs to do what it said it would do the last time we debated all this — commit to teaching a required course on this subject. It could become a leader, rather than following the crowd. The fact that the district has not yet done that is not, in and of itself, an argument against doing it, or an argument against the mascot. It is just a fact, one that can (and should) be changed.
My guess is that a few years down the road, the point this advocacy organization is making will carry the day. Eliminating the mascot isn’t really going to solve any of the more serious problems that we have about diversity, equity and inclusion. Rather, my guess is that we’ll regret eliminating it, because, well, having the mascot was a point of pride, and an opportunity for inclusion and education.