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July 19, 2003

State wants mascots changed

Things related to Indians now discouraged

Record-Eagle staff writer

      TRAVERSE CITY - The Leelanau School Indians will become the Thunderbirds this fall.
      But three northern Michigan school districts still must decide whether they want to continue calling their teams the Cheboygan Chiefs, Manistee Chippewas and Forest Area Warriors.
      Last month, the state Board of Education recommended that Michigan public and private schools with American Indian mascots change mascots, nicknames, logos, fight songs, insignias and antics.
      The recommendation comes a year after the U.S. Civil Rights Commission called for schools to quit using American Indian images and names.
      "We hope the schools will look at their use of the mascots to see if it perpetuates stereotypes and insensitivity, and also look at how all students are impacted by negative stereotypes," said Donna Budnick, an Indian affairs specialist with the Department of Civil Rights.
      Gerald Chingwa, chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, supports the state school board's recommendation. He said the use of Indian mascots dehumanizes Native Americans.
      "The quicker they take these things out of the schools, the more likely students will be more sensitive to the feelings of Native American students and to the other students," he said.
      But Cheboygan and Manistee school officials said their districts likely will keep their names. The matter is still being discussed at Forest Area schools.
      Superintendent Joel Raddatz said Manistee changed its school emblem from an Indian wearing a war bonnet to the letter "C" and Chippewas spelled in calligraphy in the 1990s when Central Michigan University made similar changes.
      But Chippewa Field was the only name recommended for Manistee's new athletic fields.
      "It would border on the impossible to change and would cause enormous unrest and divisiveness," Raddatz said.
      Cheboygan superintendent Paul Ellinger said he doubts the district will change its Chiefs nickname.
      "The Chiefs name is held in high dignity and with pride, and therefore I would recommend that it not be changed," he said.
      Matt Cairy, Forest Area's superintendent for just three weeks, said the board previously has considered changing the Warriors name and would do what's best for the community.
      Staff and students at The Leelanau School, a private school in Glen Arbor, approved its name change at the end of the school year.
      Budnick, the state civil rights specialist, said the mascot issue is the first matter state and tribal officials are addressing. School curricula, low MEAP scores and dropout rates are other issues.
      She expects tribal leaders to ask the Legislature to order the change if schools don't voluntarily make the change. The state identified 57 school districts with Indian mascots.
      Chingwa favors a state mandate if schools don't make the decision on their own.
      Jack Roberts, director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association, said he doesn't plan to ask the association's 19-member advisory board to address the mascot issue.
      "Blanket prohibitions are imprudent because sometimes the meaning and history and the tradition make this an enriching custom, and not at all a negative custom," he said, adding that forcing a name change could be costly for school districts.

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