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

 

A Day in the Life of Paul and Denise Pouliot, Part 2

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An integral part of Native American society is that people are judged not by what wealth they hold, but by what wealth they can give to others. This attitude is clearly expressed by the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki People and its nonprofit social and cultural services organization, COWASS (Coos) North America. As Sagamore (sag- 8mor) of this band, Paul Pouliot and his wife Denise are committed to preserve their culture, traditions, and way of life. They have spent their time furthering education regarding the Abenaki people.

Read Part 2 of the story by Cathy Allyn on page 2 of The Baysider newspaper. This is a multi-part story, so watch for more.

Diversity Day at Derby’s North Country Union Junior High

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Members of the Nulhegan Abenaki brought traditional drumming and singing to North Country Union Junior High in Derby, VT  on February 2, 2017, as part of the school’s Diversity Program. Photos by Melody Nunn via Facebook – wliwni!

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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.

Teaching Native American Histories Summer Program

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From the posting:

Teaching Native American Histories is a 2-week program held in the Wampanoag homeland (aka Cape Cod), July 16-28, 2017.  The co-directors are Linda Coombs (Aquinnah Wampanoag) from the Aquinnah Cultural Center and Alice Nash, who teaches History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  This Summer Institute is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  There is no cost for the program itself and each of the 25 Summer Scholars will receive a $2,100 stipend to defray the cost of travel, lodging, food and books.

It would be great to have a mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous teachers from different parts of the country, with a range of teaching interests, who can thrive on long days and intensive learning.  A major benefit of the format is that teachers get to meet and work with other teachers.

The application deadline is March 1, 2017.

Op-Ed: Talks on Turners Falls Mascot Need Next Step

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We salute school leaders for providing different perspectives on the continued use of the Indians mascot at Turners Falls High School and giving the public opportunities to comment on the issue. But now, the Gill-Montague Regional School District is at juncture.

The committee needs to move into the decision phase of an exhaustive exploration. The committee has two paths: either a straight board vote on keeping the Indians name or putting the question to a district-wide referendum with a pledge to use that outcome to guide the decision.

We don’t, however, think there is a need to seek out a speaker who represents a Native American perspective supporting the use of Indians or other imagery or mascots.

Read the full Greenfield Recorder op-ed for January 17, 2017.