Helping Schools That Retain Indian Nicknames and Logos

The Following is a contribution of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association:



Public schools exist to give every student the opportunity to achieve his/her full potential. When schools maintain policies and take actions that harm students, we all have an obligation to help make changes. When even the threat of possible future harms were brought forth in relation to the issue of asbestos in school buildings we all acted quickly and decisively to make the school environment better, even though the threat wasn’t immediate or observable to most people. The key was the use of scientifically conducted studies that demonstrated a level of threat to the well-being of students.

With the nickname and logo issue, very compelling, scientific studies have been conducted as well. Surprisingly, even though each district was given information about the studies, they have been ignored. This has happened in spite of the fact that most educators have recognized over the years that school endorsed stereotyping of an entire race of people, regardless of the intent, is educationally and morally wrong. Many schools, in fact, have carried out local discussions and seen the anti-educational nature of ‘Indian’ nicknames, logos and mascots, and changed.

Others, though, have convinced themselves that upholding a local tradition, insisting on “respectful” behavior directed toward their logo use, and their concept of what constitutes harm should somehow “trump” what they are being shown through evidence and the advice presented by Native Nations, psychologists, sociologists and educational organizations from across the country.


There is a definite disconnection between local opinion saying they are honoring ‘Indians,’ and the realities of Wisconsin tribes and educational organizations unanimously calling for an end to ‘Indian’ nicknames and logos. This can largely be explained by the scientifically conducted research of Dr. Stephanie Fryberg (Tulalip).

One finding in the six studies she conducted (that were validated by a doctoral board of world-renowned psychologists at Stanford University and by the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Associarion was that non-Indians get a boost to their self esteem from using ‘Indian’ nicknames, logos and mascots. So there is a logical element in the resistance to change because some people in school districts are having a good time “playing Indian.”

The larger problems emerge, though, because Dr. Fryberg’s research also shows that, for American Indian students, school use of ‘Indian’ nicknames and logos:
1) Lowers their self esteem
2) Negatively affects their beliefs that their community has the power and resources to resolve problems (community efficacy)
3) Reduces the number of achievement-related future goals they see for themselves (self-efficacy)

Any school with policies that encourage these things to happen should immediately change because the finding that non-Indians experience a boost to self-esteem while American Indian students have reduced self-esteem is prima facie proof of discrimination.

Schools (like Mukwonago in their recent DPI case 10-LC-03) try to say these findings don’t apply because they police student behavior and use “honorable” images. They don’t seem to understand the nature of behavioral research where data is meticulously checked, control groups are used, and the findings are peer reviewed. In this case the Fryberg research showed it didn’t matter if the images were perceived as honorable or not. And, when these districts inevitably find some residents “with Native American ancestry” that say they support their nickname and logo, it is also very important to note that the Fryberg research shows more damage is done to American Indian students who endorse an Indian nickname and logo than to those who oppose the use of these symbols.

In addition, two more studies have now been completed that show the damage extends to ALL students. Dr. Chu Kim Prieto and three other scholars, all from different universities, concluded that students exposed to ‘Indian’ nicknames and logos increased their stereotyping of other minority groups.

It is stunning to think that schools would ignore this research, especially since there is no scientifically conducted research that shows any value to retaining race-based nicknames and logos.


1. The increase in the use of social media has also increased the harms. Cyberbullying and harassment through Facebook, online blogs and other social media have both spread and intensified the harms. Any element of perceived control by school districts is now totally gone. Studies by Dr. Jesse Steinfeldt (Oneida) of Indiana University and others have now documented the high level of hurtful rhetoric that is flowing freely in cyberspace whenever communities try and mount a defense of their race-based nickname and logo. Partly because the mainstream media and school districts have done little to discuss the research, community members often start to repeat irrelevant arguments about place names, “offensiveness” and how they work so hard to make their use an “honor” to Native Americans. At the same time, they start to personally threaten and attack anyone who has asked for change.

2. There are huge disadvantages for all students in preparing for a successful 21st Century business environment. No school that retains an ‘Indian’ nickname and logo can accurately claim to be preparing their students for business in the 21st Century. The business environment of the future will reflect the diverse environments of the global economy.

The very idea of claiming to “honor” Native Americans with a race-based nickname when so many elected leaders of First Nations and educational organizations throughout society have passed resolutions against race-based nicknames and logos runs against the best models of successful business practices. Showing sensitivity to varying cultural perspectives and respect for multicultural principles have proven to be very effective in the emerging global business environment.

The inherent promotion of stereotyping that comes with the use of race-based nicknames and logos is most certainly a red flag to any forward thinking business.


School districts that retain ‘Indian’ nicknames and logos need to understand that there is no future in trying to justify the hurtful behavior that that they promote. All the discussions about changing Wisconsin Act 250 and using legal challenges in court (as private citizens have been doing in Mukwonago) are shortsighted because the advocates for change, above all else, are fighting to stop proven harms to the most precious commodity Wisconsin has — our children. That means any roadblocks put in the way of progress with this issue will be met with further action. There is no “once and for all” action districts can take to preserve a practice that harms students. More than 117 health, educational and tribal organizations are committed to seeing schools eliminate these nicknames and logos and will not stop because of attempts to preserve behavior injurious to children.

The perception that this is a controversial issue with two equal sides is largely a product of a mainstream media and school officials in the race-based nickname and logo districts who have ignored the research and haven’t had the training needed to be more culturally responsive.


More than 30 Wisconsin School Districts have changed to new nickname and logo identities. Most recently, Kewaunee changed to become the “Storm,” a nickname that accurately reflects their history as a lakeshore community. Before them, Seymour became the “Thunder,” Shawano the “Hawks,” and many others chose nicknames and logos that harm no one and can be celebrated by everyone. Districts that change continue to experience the same pride in student achievement with the new nicknames and logos.

School districts that continue to cling to race-based identities will continue to spawn hurtful behavior and live in anti-educational school environments..

This publication is sponsored by the Wisconsin Indian Education Association Mascot and Logo Task Force

3 thoughts on “Helping Schools That Retain Indian Nicknames and Logos

  1. I believe that, in this particular instance, and in other controversial issues, the decision should be made by our Native Americans! If they find a logo distasteful or not honoring their culture – then THEY should be the ones making any decision! This was done years ago when Marquette University changed from the “Warriors” to the “Golden Eagles” and life went on! When there are so many other pertinent issues happening, i.e., unemployment, no end in sight of the “recession”, etc. – let the Native Americans make the decision & then we can begin working on other issues! Thank you!

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