William Brotherton, Indian Mascots, and a Backstory

Members of the Turners Falls High School community were able to hear from William Brotherton, a lawyer and Native American who advocates for schools to keep Indian mascots. Brotherton, who is from Texas but is a member of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi in Vermont, was in the area and stopped in Montague Wednesday night to answer questions and discuss the Turners Falls High School situation at Hubie’s Tavern.

The Gill-Montague Regional School Committee voted in February to discontinue use of the Indian as a nickname and logo for the high school sports teams. The vote came to the disappointment of some members of the community who said they felt unheard in the decision-making process. Brotherton said there is a larger, cultural issue of political correctness in America, where people no longer feel comfortable discussing difficult issues.

Read the full story by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

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Another side of the story:

Yesterday I met William Brotherton in person for the first time. He’s a friendly, self-assured guy, and has been pro-active with me in opening up personal and intra-tribal communications. We had spoken on the phone and emailed a couple times; that afternoon, we both joined a tour of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant (VY) in Vernon, Vermont and were able to get to know each other a little. The tour was offered to participants in VT Public Service Board (PSB, now known as the Vermont  Public Utility Commission, PUC) Docket #8880. This is the State review process for the proposed sale of VY by owner Entergy Corp. to NorthStar Group Services, for purposes of decommissioning and site restoration. I had filed in May for intervenor status on behalf of Elnu Abenaki, with the backing of the Nulhegan and Koasek bands. Brotherton, who serves on the Tribal Council  for the St. Francis Sokoki Band of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi, followed suit for their group shortly thereafter. The PUC process is now getting well underway with dozens of discovery and response documents going back and forth. By way of helping to inform the parties involved, the petitioners (Entergy and NorthStar) coordinated this tour within the plant’s security zone for an inside look at the scope of the project.

While on the tour of  the strongly-secured and highly industrialized site (we’re talking guards with machine guns), I asked many questions of our hosts regarding ground disturbance and oversight protocol. While I didn’t get many direct answers, Scott State (CEO of NorthStar) assured me that he understood and respected tribal concerns about cultural heritage and and wanted to be sensitive to them.  I believe he has become much more aware of these aspects than was the case previously, and while we must take any such proclamation with a grain of salt, I am guardedly optimistic that there may be some constructive dialogue going forward.

I noted that William Brotherton did not ask any questions about cultural resources. At one point, I gestured across the Kwenitekw (Connecticut River), to the eastern bank in New Hampshire, and mentioned to him about a fortified Sokoki village site there. It had been attacked in December 1663 by a  large force of Mohawk, Oneida, and Seneca warriors and successfully defended, although with a great loss of life; the land here holds many spirits, many at rest but others disquiet, whether from war or forced displacement or simply blatant disregard by modern development. William expressed surprise at what I had said. I began to understand the degree to which he was unfamiliar, indeed almost completely separated, from nearly all cultural understanding of Sokwakik. I am not sure that he knows what “Sokoki” signifies, much less represents  – if I am wrong, I welcome the conversation.

Afterward, we went down the river a half-mile and sat on a cottonwood log below the Vernon Dam, built in 1909 atop an ancient fishing site there at Great Bend. We spoke together for over an hour. I wanted to use the opportunity to talk with him about the significance of the landscape here to its people, past and present, and why we had filed as intervenors in PUC Docket #8880. I wanted to understand what he, on behalf of Missisquoi, had in mind as well. He didn’t really have an answer. I also wanted to talk to him about his endorsement, as a Tribal Council member, of the Indians team mascot/logo in Turners Falls, where he was going immediately afterward to speak to a group of supporters. I knew where he was coming from, ideologically, since I have read his articles and perused his CV.

I started by saying that I (and others) fully endorse the incorporation of a regular curriculum segment devoted to indigenous culture and the effects of colonization, not only in Turners Falls High School but all educational forums. This would probably be the best thing coming out of the entire mascot controversy, because it will help to displace the ignorance – the “not-knowing” – that brought us to this juncture and the benightedness – the “not-caring” – which follows. I pointed out to him that the contemporary indigenous people in the immediate area, Nipmuk and Abenaki, had clearly expressed their opposition to the continued use of the Indians mascot, and why this was the case. I don’t think he heard, or grasped the significance, what I was saying.

To borrow his own words, from Miranda Davis’s Recorder article: “Brotherton said there is a larger, cultural issue of political correctness in America, where people no longer feel comfortable discussing difficult issues,” this is exactly the case here. This initiative is not an erasure of history or a sanitizing campaign. Yes, this is very uncomfortable situation. It is hard to take a clear look at what has brought us all to this challenging place, recognizing that we can do much better and that everyone in the community will benefit. To NOT do so is continuing the illusion of propriety and the normalizing of disenfranchisement. This IS that difficult discussion which we are having, and to which Brotherton alludes. But first of all we need to know what we are talking about. I hope I can continue this exploration with William – I told him that as we parted on Wednesday afternoon. And I hope we can share this story with many others, in hopes for a healthier, more inclusive life for all in this beautiful place.

 

 

MA Bill Would Ban Native American School Mascots

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Massachusetts lawmakers are weighing whether to ban the use of Native American mascots in public schools — a proposal that drew strong opinions at a public hearing Tuesday. The push comes after the town of Tewksbury rebuffed efforts to change the name of its high school mascot, the Redmen — and even as the town of Montague continues to debate its school committee decision to remove its long-time Indians mascot.

Linda Thomas has children in the first and fourth grades in Tewksbury and said she doesn’t want to signal that “it’s OK to use these images and memes and logos.” “The name has become so integrated and repeated that the meaning is lost,” she said. “People using it don’t intend to cause harm, but the impact is harmful and Native Americans have been saying this now for decades.”

Thomas added it’s hard to imagine any other racial group being used as a mascot.

Read the full story in the Greenfield Recorder.

Gill Montague School Committee Faces Questions After Mascot Vote

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Members of the Gill-Montague School Committee faced more questions and complaints about the mascot vote from parents and students this week. The board had agreed to take a two meeting break from the issue after the committee voted to change the mascot from the Indians, but the public can bring any issue to the public comment portion of school board meetings.

So, several parents raised concerns about how the vote was taken, because the School Committee had voted to suspend its planned process to vote on the mascot issue. Marisa Dalmaso-Rode, a parent who is part of a group that operates a Facebook page about saving the mascot, said there are still a lot of unanswered questions from the School Committee surrounding the choice to not bring in a pro-Indian mascot Native American group to speak to students. She said the committee should release more information about the vote or the town will not be able to heal.

Read the full article by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

Gill-Montague Superintendent’s Thoughts Regarding the Turners Falls Mascot

Remarks made by Superintendent Michael Sullivan on Feb. 14, 2017, when the GMRSD School Committee voted 6-3 to change the Indians mascot/logo, after a contentious but thorough examination of the issue. Full quote below:

Before I share my thoughts about the logo/nickname situation I would like to thank the school committee for having the courage to address this issue, knowing in advance that it would be controversial. The integrity and earnestness with which you have undertaken this process is admirable and I am proud to serve you. It also needs to be said that given your knowledge of the district’s communities combined with the scores of hours you have put into listening to citizens and scholars and studying this matter, no one is better equipped and poised to make decisions about it than you are.

In terms of sharing my perspective on the “TFHS Indians”, I would start by saying there is no doubt that the “Indian” is a symbol of tradition and pride to many, if not most, of the adult members of the district’s communities and we now know that most of our students feel similarly. We also know that those who support the “Indian” have no ill intent towards Native Americans. But, because they bear no ill will, many supporters of the nickname and logo, particularly students, continue to ask “where is the harm in it?”

As the district’s educational leader I believe we need to help our students understand that there is harm in the status quo. On average, each year, three of our students are Native American and these students deserve and are afforded the same civil rights protections enjoyed by all students. According to our policies, these rights include learning in an environment free from conduct, symbols, and language that create a hostile, humiliating, intimidating, or offensive educational environment.

Over the last several months we have heard from over 50 area Native Americans, both at forums and in writing, who find the “Indian” to be offensive, humiliating, and harmful. These sentiments have been the clear consensus view of the Native American community in our region. We have also learned that organizations with expertise in the social sciences have condemned the use of Indian mascots as harmful and/or in violation of students’ civil rights. These include the American Psychological Association, the American Anthropological Association, the American Sociological Association, as well as the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Congress of American Indians, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Our review process has shown that there is widespread interest in having students learn more about local history and Native American cultures. This is commendable and will be acted upon. But this will not be enough. Our review process has also revealed that Native American mascots have helped legitimize and perpetuate harmful racial stereotypes and that these symbols exist within a context of historical oppression against indigenous people, including an act of tragic violence that occurred right in this community, only to be followed by centuries of ongoing assault, subjugation, and dispossession. Understood in this context it is logical to see the injustice of appropriating a name and culture that is not ours to take and shape as we please. Indians are not like cowboys or Vikings. They are cultures of real people, our neighbors, and it is inappropriate to treat them or any racial, ethnic, religious, or gender group in ways that perpetuate and legitimize stereotypes.

Part of the mission of all public schools is to teach students to think critically and to equip them to live in a multi-ethnic and complex world, which includes learning to recognize and dispel prejudices and stereotypes. Our review process has made clear we have much work to do to advance all facets of students’ multicultural learning; from thinking critically about history, to learning to see events from multiple perspectives, to understanding the nature of prejudice, discrimination, and oppression.

Many of our students have difficulty understanding this perspective and instead fall back on their honestly held belief that where no offense is intended, no problem exists. We have an obligation, as a public school system, to help our students grow beyond this line of reasoning, an aspiration clearly advanced by the district’s core values of empathy and continuous learning and it core belief that public education is the primary means we have for cultivating democracy and achieving social justice.

In my opinion there is no way to retain the name “Indians” that would not continue to present a civil rights problem, a pedagogical mixed message, and a misalignment with our mission and core values. That we did not understand these things in the past need not be anyone’s fault, but if we do not act upon what we understand now it will be a lost opportunity to be our best selves.

Gill-Montague Board Votes 6-3 to Remove Turners Falls Indian Mascot

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The Gill-Montague Regional School Committee has voted to change the Turners Falls High School mascot from the “Indians” in a 6-3 vote on Tuesday night.

About 70 were in the crowd of the auditorium as the five-month debate came to an unanticipated close when the School Committee voted to change after an hour of discussion on the issue.

The School Committee was partially through a process to review the mascot that they discontinued last meeting. Those who advocated for the vote said it was because the process had become overwhelmingly divisive in the towns and schools.

Read the full report by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder!

Video coverage of the School Committee meeting from Montague Community Television:

More coverage (some duplicate wire services):

http://www.westernmassnews.com/story/34506389/turners-falls-vote-to-change-high-schools-indian-mascot

School committee voted to remove Turners Falls High School ‘Indians’ mascot

http://www.dailyprogress.com/massachusetts-school-board-dumps-native-american-mascot/article_675ca1ec-b904-5666-acf9-da02b690c20e.html

http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/02/turners_falls_high_school_to_s.html

http://www.bostonherald.com/news/local_coverage/2017/02/massachusetts_school_board_dumps_native_american_mascot

https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2017/02/15/massachusetts-school-board-dumps-native-american-mascot

 

Mascot Pro-change Residents Hold Press Conference

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Members of a group calling for a change in the Turners Falls High School mascot held a press conference on Monday afternoon announcing their opposition to the nonbinding referendum approved by the Montague Selectboard last week. About 15 people gathered to share the statement. Ferd Wulkan, Edite Cunha and Elyssa Serrilli read the statement.

“We call on the voters of Montague to join us in supporting the Gill-Montague Regional School Committee, as they have dedicated much time and energy in their thorough and thoughtful process on this issue,” the statement said. “This work has been done in a planned and announced process by a democratically elected body. We think that body should be allowed to complete its work and render a timely decision.”

Read the full story by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder

 

More on MA Senate Bill to Ban Native American Mascots

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Yesterday, Miranda Davis at the Greenfield Recorder picked up the story of Massachusetts bill SD.1119, An Act to Prohibit the Use of Native American Mascots by Public Schools in the Commonwealth. The introduction of this bill directly impacts the local debate in Turners Falls about the effects of continued use of the “Indians” mascot/logo.

Excerpt: The bill, introduced Thursday, was filed “by request” by Sen. Barbara L’Italian, a Democrat representing the 2nd Essex and Middlesex district. According to L’Italian’s spokeswoman Emma Friend, the bill was requested by a resident of Tewksbury, where the high school’s mascot is the Redmen. If passed, the bill would affect the ongoing debate in Montague over whether Turners Falls High School should keep its current mascot, the Indians.

Another story on the same topic was published by NECN, an NBC affiliate out of Boston, MA.

Excerpt:  The Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness said change is long overdue. “Mascots keep us trapped in a false narrative and don’t show context or how we have evolved over 500 years,” said Claudia Fox Tree. “The problem is that we aren’t able to share our own story in our own voices.”

CBS local affiliate WBZ Channel 4 in Boston also carried the announcement. From that report:

A Tewksbury resident wants state lawmakers to ban the use of Native American symbols and logos at public schools. After losing a battle to change Tewksbury High School’s mascot from the Redmen, Linda Thomas is now hoping legislators will vote to get rid of Native American logos at all public schools for good. Last year, the Tewksbury School Committee voted 4-1 to keep their mascot, which some say pays tribute to the town’s Native American heritage. “This is really not a town issue, this is a state issue,” Thomas said.