Fri. Jan 28th, 2022
Rushton Elementary School is one of three elementary schools in Shawnee Mission changing their mascot along with Shawnee Mission North High School. Carlos Moreno / KCUR 89.3
Rushton Elementary School is one of three elementary schools in Shawnee Mission changing their mascot along with Shawnee Mission North High School. Carlos Moreno / KCUR 89.3

By JODI FORTINO
Kansas News Service

Native Americans in Kansas are speaking out in support of Shawnee
Mission North’s retirement of its long-time mascot, the Indians.

The high school announced Tuesday that it is now the home of the Bison, following a months-long process and vote by students.

In
January, the Shawnee Mission school board approved a new policy that
barred mascots deemed derogatory or offensive, following widespread
criticism of their use of Native American imagery.

Kansas state Rep. Christina Haswood, a member of the Navajo Nation, said she was proud to finally see a new mascot chosen.

“There
has been a history of past Indigenous students of Shawnee Mission North
fighting for the change, and it is really great to see the younger
generation get the mascot change passed,” Haswood said in a statement.

Ben Barnes, chief of the Shawnee Tribe, was also involved in asking the school board to revise its policy.

“Educational
institutions have a key responsibility in teaching accurate history,
and that includes ensuring that their school culture does not contribute
to Indigenous erasure and stereotypes,” Barnes said. “It’s heartening
to see this shift from Shawnee Mission North.”

Three Shawnee
Mission elementary schools with mascots that referenced Native Americans
have also selected new mascots. The district announced the new mascots Wednesday:

  1. Belinder Bears, formerly Braves
  2. Rushton Red-Tailed Hawks, formerly Indians
  3. Shawanoe Bison, formerly Indians

Rhonda
LeValdo, an enrolled member of the Acoma Pueblo who is on the faculty
at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, also voiced her
support. She said using Native Americans as mascots is harmful to the
students who have to face the images when attending these schools.

“When
you’re a kid, you think that people are making fun of you and what
you’re supposed to be like,” LeValdo said. “In reality, that’s not who
we are.”

Shawnee Mission North is no longer Home of the Indians — it's Home of the Bison. That's the mascot students voted for after a months-long process of finding a mascot that would comply with the district's new policy, which found all Native American mascots to be non-compliant.
Shawnee Mission North is no longer Home of the Indians — it’s Home of the Bison. That’s the mascot students voted for after a months-long process of finding a mascot that would comply with the district’s new policy, which found all Native American mascots to be non-compliant.

Carole Cadue-Blackwood, an enrolled member of the Kickapoo tribe of
Kansas, said the mascot change is “long overdue.” As a caseworker with
the Kansas City Indian Center, she says she’s seen firsthand the impact these mascots have on the self-esteem of Native American children.

“When
you walk in the room, and as soon as you see some teacher with some
imagery of Native Americans as the mascots, you just know that the bar
is set low for you,” said Cadue-Blackwood, who is also a Lawrence school
board member. “Because you’re not seen at the same level as others who
are not Native American.”

Cadue-Blackwood said that, while
attending sporting events in the Lawrence school district, she would
sometimes see SM North’s Indian mascot at games. She said her children
“shut down” when they heard the mascot perform a stereotypical
war-chant.

LeValdo said she has heard similar experiences from students on her weekly radio show, Native Spirit Radio on KKFI 90.1.
She said that the “Indian princess” and Brave mascots seen at these
games, as well as other Native American caricatures, are often an
inaccurate portrayal of the tribe they claim to be representing.

“As
native people, we’re from different tribes, so a lot of times they mesh
these different mascots from a Plains Indian-type person, when you’re
not even Plains Indian,” LeValdo said.

Cadue-Blackwood said these
mascots play a greater societal role in dehumanizing Native Americans,
and can lead to higher rates of sexual abuse and violence against their
communities.

According to a study
from the National Congress of American Indians’ Policy Research Center,
84.3% of American Indian and Alaskan Native women have experienced some
sort of violence in their lifetime.

“There is a link to how the
imagery, the mascots, and the portrayal in the media does contribute to
sexual and domestic violence because it dehumanizes you. We’re seen as
sub-human,” Cadue-Blackwood said.

Cadue-Blackwood said beyond
retiring these mascots, the state of Kansas needs to begin requiring
mandatory education on Native American history in schools. She argues
this education falls under the capacities included in the Kansas State
Board of Education’s Rose Standards.

“The
schools must have curriculums that have cultural grounding to support
the students. That means everybody across the board. There’s a definite
need to require Native American history, LGBTQ, and Latinx studies,”
Cadue-Blackwood said.

She said education is necessary because she feels people forget there are still Native Americans in their communities.

LeValdo is also a founding member of Not In Our Honor, a coalition of Native Americans against the use of the Native mascots, names and imagery.

“We’re
all around Kansas City, we’re all around Lawrence, we’re all around
Shawnee, we’re always going to be here,” LeValdo said. “And people are
always going to say something against those mascots.”

Now that new
mascots have been chosen, Shawnee Mission schools will work to finalize
the logos. Those will be released as they become available, according
to the district.

Jodi Fortino, a University of Missouri-Kansas City graduate, is a freelance reporter for KCUR 89.3. 

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