TELLING THE BOARD IT IS TIME TO MAKE A TRANSITION TO SOMETHING MORE POSITIVE FOR MUKWONAGO
At Monday night’s (April 28th) School Board meeting the Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s Logo Task Force’s warm and compassionately offered invitation to host both faculty and members of the Mukwonago School Board at this summer’s DPI American Indian Studies Program with the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa met with no initial response from the School Board.
The program permits students to immerse themselves in Native-American culture and to hear elders tell stories and explain the traditions as well as matters of U.S. law and international law related to tribal sovereignty. Thus far there is no indication as to how Mukwonago will respond if at all. Previous invitations of many kinds to educate the students, staff, and community about the Mascot/Logo issue and American Indians generally have fell on deaf ears.
Mukwonago resident and important ally for the Logo Task Force, Dr. Sandy Shedivy, noted that “we are not respecting Indians” and that they have experienced Genocide in which up to 93 million were killed, and the rest stripped of their languages and cultures. The indigenous people of this continent have a tradition going back thousands of years while Mukwonago’s “Indians” nickname and distinctive logo with head dressed chief with dark skin has been around 87 years and was created and is maintained by non-indigenous people in this Wisconsin city.
“Resistance to the change,” Shedivy noted, leads to “their understanding their view ignites discomfort.” “We have chosen to defy mountains of research” she added, “that tells us that children in the schools are harmed by these stereotypical symbols and names.”
Dr. Stephanie Fryberg of the University of Arizona pioneered research that indicates just how strongly mascots and logos and nicknames that are race-based and stereotype Native-Americans harm everyone. Indian children’s basic self-esteem is particularly impacted. Since 2002 when that research study was peer reviewed, some 300 additional studies in social psychology have confirmed and expanded upon the Fryberg research.
Paula Mohan a Professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison spoke movingly of her first exposure in her small northern Wisconsin community over the spear fishing controversy of the 1980’s and 90’s. It led her as an adult student to write her doctoral dissertation on this very issue. Mohan urged the Board to “make a transition” away from their nickname and logo to something more positive.
Leader of the Mukwonago Logo change effort, Barbara Munson, an Oneida woman, told of a recent event where indigenous people made and held up signs that said” #Proud to be” followed by their tribal affiliation and the work that defines them—followed then by “#Not your Mascot.” Munson’s presentation demonstrated yet again that American Indians have nothing whatever to do with the dominant majority’s stereotypes of them. One said “#Proud to be “standing with the human race.”
Munson’s remarks included yet another heartfelt plea for the Mukwonago School Board to change their policy of continuing the “Indian” nickname and accompanying logo. She said that the name and Logo “generalizes” 560 plus nations and their peoples. “You would not have a feeder team the ‘Braves’ if at heart the Mukwonago mascot/logo and nickname were not a racial stereotype of Indians,” Munson said.
Struggles for Justice Managing Editor Thomas Martin Sobottke, another ally of indigenous people everywhere, noted that Native-American women were particularly in attendance at this meeting.
Diane Peterson spoke movingly about her experience in high school and how these nicknames and symbols really hurt her.
Sherri Jones, another Native-American woman in attendance, spoke to the Board about what she saw at the demonstration at the Kohl Center just this last March where the Mukwonago Boys Basketball Team was playing a semi-final game in the State Tournament in Madison. “We really got a great response,” she said, “people saying thank you, thank you, teachers and students yelling and clapping.” She spoke of large groups of students, teachers and families leaving the Kohl Center offering their strong support for the protest.
EMBLEM OF WHITE SUPREMACIST FIST APPEARS ON MUKWONAGO AREA SCHOOL’S OWN WEBSITE
Jones said she did see and hear up close a few young men from Mukwonago chant “KKK!” Jones said they had the letters “KKK” emblazoned under their eyelids. Struggles for Justice Managing Editor Thomas Martin Sobottke, also a part of the protest, had the very same experience with the same people. One came up and yelled “Injun” in his face with the all too obvious intent of spitting into it. Whatever that was about, Sobottke was and is happy to stand with America’s indigenous people as friends and a welcome part of his life. Being mistaken for an Indian though inaccurate and misleading made him feel very good. For that is where his heart is also.
This last part of the protest experience may have a connection to what Jones found on the Mukwonago Area School’s own website under “Boys Varsity Basketball.” She held up and displayed a copy of a poster-like emblem of an upraised white fist. Though she noted that it was the opposite hand of the white supremacists fist, no one in attendance had any doubt that the intention of the makers was to support not only team strength and unity, but to suggest a white supremacist connection. There was also a five pointed star akin to those who worship demons.
The entire School Board was shocked at seeing this. Superintendent Shawn McNulty’s face looked blanched, gone completely white. No doubt this has been removed from the site and some sort of investigation, however informal, is underway today.
LARGER SIGNIFICANCE OF THE WHITE FIST AND KKK BOYS
Nevertheless, this white supremacist fist and the presence of the “KKK Boys” at the protest are indicative of an aspect of the Fryberg related research. School Districts that maintain Indian nicknames, mascots and logos run the risk of providing even more fertile ground for racial animus in those communities. Mukwonago today is on the whole a wonderful community with strong families and good people. But it is no friend of people of color. There is a palpable feeling of exclusion and a failure to be inclusive of the diversity that this nation has always been, and is becoming before our very eyes.