Back we go again to the Indian mascot at Manhattan High.
The prompt this time is from the state school board, which voted last week to recommend that all schools using those mascots drop them.
It’s certainly possible that such a recommendation will eventually matter here, although I wouldn’t anticipate that for the next year and a half, at least. Thing is, a majority of the school board currently in place here supports the mascot, and so any change seems unlikely, barring somebody changing his or her mind. Remember, the school board here has voted several times over the years to keep the mascot, and indicated as recently as a year ago that that’s still the position.
Let me be clear, in case you wonder: I support the mascot as well. My rationale is simple: Keeping the mascot in place brings to light all the history and culture of Native people in this region, while eliminating the mascot would mean relegating all that to the dustbin of history.
If your school mascot – a point of pride – is the Indian, then those issues take on much more prominence than otherwise. The percent of the population in Manhattan that is American Indian, according to the census, is three-tenths of one percent. Believe me, without the prominence of the mascot, that issue would eventually wither.
That line of thinking – or, anyway, a pro-mascot view – has prevailed on the school board for the past 30 years, when the subject has come up intermittently. That’s been supported by the longtime principal at MHS, James Rezac, who himself had American Indian heritage. It’s been supported by the family of Frank Prentup, a Native man who coached at the high school and who is believed to represent the origin of the mascot. It was supported by Brent Yancey, a teacher with Native heritage who drew the original version of the symbol. It’s been supported by generations of alums.
The arguments against the mascot are well-intended, too, and of course I can empathize with them. They say that mascots objectify a race, and that to use them is to convey or tacitly support racism. There are other related arguments, and those have gained ground nationwide, what with the elimination of similar mascots by the Washington football team and the Cleveland baseball team. In Kansas, Wichita North and Shawnee Mission North have both ditched the Indian in recent years.
Fair enough. I just think Manhattan – home to the major Kansa Indian settlement prior to the incursion of white people here – is in position to lead in a different direction, for very good reasons. I think that makes it incumbent on the school district and the broader community to focus on Native American history and culture, something we’ve only begun to do. The impetus for doing so is right there in the entrance to the high school; switch that, and the impetus would be toward…what, wolves?
Wolves and bison are worthy subjects of scientific study, don’t get me wrong. But I think students, the community, and Native peoples generally would be better off if we stand by our agreement to bring far more attention to bear on American Indians, led by the existence of the mascot. I hope that’s where the energy goes this time around.