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

jasmine-goodspeed-turners-falls-mascot-vote

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

 

Nipmucs Call for End of Native American Mascots

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Nipmuc Nation, a state-acknowledged Native American tribal government, seated in Grafton, is formally calling for the end of sports team mascots after a state Senate bill was filed last week to do the same.

If passed into law, Senate docket 1119 would force Grafton High School (and dozens of other public school districts) to change their long-held mascot of a Native American in headgear and their team name — the Indians.

The Nipmuc Nation Tribal Council released a September 2016 memo to The Grafton News after a request made for a comment on the bill. In it, they unanimously voted that any and all sports mascots depicting native people is tied to the history of genocide in this country against their people.

Read the full story by Richard price in The Grafton News.

Netop: A Clarifying Response to Jaywalking

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In the past two weeks, sports columnist Jay Butynski took a look at some of the anecdotal and historical evidence behind the usage of Native iconography for the “Indians” athletic programs at Turners Falls High School. I appreciate that he would like to defuse tensions and find neutral ground; I agree that partisanship and divisiveness are seldom a productive means of resolution. But the straightforward answer to the headline “Is this nickname dust-up really necessary?” is an unambiguous “Yes.” When there is a discussion to be had around understanding and respect, especially in a learning environment, the opportunity should be welcomed and embraced. I’d like to make a few observations, which might help to inform the larger conversation through an understanding of the underlying dynamics. For background, links to the original columns are listed below:

Part 1 from last week’s Greenfield Recorder can be read here.
Part 2 in this week’s Recorder column can be found here.

Jay hit upon a critical observation when he cited a reader’s comment in reply: “Perhaps the best response to shoot down my assertion was that unlike the Indian nickname in Turners Falls, many of those other nicknames were given to teams by people who bear a likeness to the nickname. Irish people were responsible for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish nickname, etc. This person might be right.” I would say to Jay “You just nailed it, my friend!” – perhaps without realizing just how succinctly.

This single observation goes straight to the heart of the matter. Let’s pull back and look at it through a basic lens of mutual respect or “getting along with each other.”  Most people can agree that this ideal is something to which we aspire, and would like to encourage as much as possible; these are “teaching moments” for the next generations, and indeed the future of us all. Here’s the deal: when one individual, or a group of individuals, helps themselves to something which belongs to another, it is called appropriation, defined as “the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.” When these actions occur with no conscious intent (but often with impact), it is due to a phenomenon known as implicit bias, defined as “the bias in judgment and/or behavior that results from subtle cognitive processes (e.g., implicit attitudes and implicit stereotypes) that often operate at a level below conscious awareness and without intentional control.”

The use of the word “netop” in the current context can be shown to exemplify these concepts, through broad deployment of stereotypes, conditioned attitudes, and a lack of awareness. Again, I wish to use this as a simple demonstration of the underlying dynamics, which are often hidden; this is not intended as a fault-finding, but as an understanding. The responsibility lies within society at large: though the individual may be subject to these covert assumptions, it remains for each one to recognize the insidiousness and decide for themselves to act differently. And in order to find appropriate answers, the right questions must be asked. Here we go…

Netop is commonly explained as a Narragansett term meaning friend. True. But there is much more to the story. First of all, the written word is an Anglicization of a single iteration of a widely used logotype amongst indigenous Algonquian-speakers, which includes nearly all of the tribal entities within what is now called New England. In the spoken mother tongue(s) it would be vocalized somewhat differently, more like nee-tomp… in Western Abenaki it would be vocalized nee-dom-ba (nid8ba); my point is that this a generalized (stereotyped) term, borrowed (loosely appropriated) by English colonists. It is not entirely correct to state that it “was used by early colonists as a salutation when greeting Native Americans.” Rather, it was first used by the indigenous people amongst themselves and their neighbors, and (in a manner similar to the quoted apocryphal William Brewster story), first used as an address by a Native person to the new European visitors – not vice versa.

Let’s be clear that this was a gesture of friendship toward complete strangers, a situation which rapidly devolved into mayhem and misunderstanding. Several more points: Brewster and his band of refugees were met by Wampanoag, not Narragansett; a ceremonial exchange of a smoking pipe as a gesture of peace between equals would not have happened in 1620 – in fact, the calumet ceremony came to the Northeast in the next century – and further, the English were never fond of it, as they did not consider the local populations as equals. Lastly, and back home to Turners Falls, this immediate region was not Narragansett homelands, but rather Abenaki, Nipmuc, Pocumtuck, Nonotuck, perhaps some Mahican and Pennacook (note these spellings and designations are all Euro-derived, variable, and subject to interpretation).  Although the languages and phrases were often similar, citing a Narragansett language origin as justification for appropriation manifests conflation as stereotyping, once again. Particularly telling, the use of a facial profile with Plains culture regalia as a logo for the Indians identity is (quite literally) a graphic example of the depth of unawareness of geo-cultural reality and the lumping of all Native diversities into the “Other.”

So, yes, it is all connected – and matters – now, what’s to be done? Starting with an identification of the root situations, we can postulate solutions.

It has been said that one cannot care about that about which one is unaware or ignorant. There must be an understanding to have a connection… not separation, but connection. The key here is learning, by intent and through mindfulness. This will help to dispel assumptions, stereotypes, and implicit bias due to cognitive disconnect, all of it at once. Without this foundational work, the gesture of change becomes an empty exercise in political correctness. It is worthy to aspire toward positivity, and the right side of history, but as human beings with the capacity for empathy and reason,  we are well-served to do the foundational work, to connect in a meaningful manner, to show up and be present in our own lives. As a wise person once said, I am also a you.

Lew Collins: Failure to Prove Native Americans Oppose Mascots

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Lew Collins added his voice to the Greenfield Recorder editorial debate, citing the Washington Post’s poll in May, 2016, which asserted that a majority of Native Americans did not find the use of Native mascots offensive. Excerpt below:

Mr. David Bulley, in the My Turn section, suggests that our Indian name and logo we use at Turners Falls High School “harms Native Americans” and that “Millions of natives as well as the American Psychological Association say there is no honor here.”

While these and other claims he makes are bold — they’re dangerously misleading. Mr. Bulley had his turn in the paper. Now it is “My Turn” to voice the supporters’ side.

Read the full Op-Ed in the Greenfield Recorder.

Mr. Collins slips into the pervasive mindset that “Indians” are, for all intents and purposes of those in the dominant culture, nearly identical and can be lumped into the same basket.  A graphic example is his lead-in paragraph:

But, may I suggest that we embark on this debate in true Indian fashion by closely following the deliberative “council fire” standards as outlined in the “Great Law of Peace”: “Neither anger nor fury shall find lodgement in their minds and all their words and actions shall be marked by calm deliberation.”

His “True Indian fashion” extracts wisdom from the Haudenosaunee Great Law of Peace, brought by Wendat prophet Deganawida, and invokes its rejoinder for peace and consensus – an admirable aspiration. May we all follow this exhortation! But, this citation is a perfect example of implicit stereotyping, part of the mindset underlying the appropriation of an indigenous mascot by a group separated from the subject (and history, and culture, and value system) of their usurpation. The indigenous communities of this region were, and are, Algonquian relations and allies (the Pocumtuck, the Nonotuck, the Nipmuc, the Sokwakiak, the Narragansett, the Wampanoag, and others), and not at all Iroquoian – as a matter of fact they were often at great odds.

This aspect of implicit bias (see this article, also from the Washington Post, just 3 weeks ago) is further bolstered by Mr. Collin’s defense of local enlightenment – and thus entitlement to the use of the Indians emblem –  when he states “Right off the bat we know this is not the case in our community — it’s quite the opposite as many have spoken in great lengths about the Indian history that we are aware of in our town.”  There has been a lot of speaking but there has been very little awareness of the true stories. The amount of conflation, obfuscation, misinformation, and generalization is staggering. Add to that the statements to the contrary being issued by the Tribes still here in the immediate area, the descendants of those who survived the Peskeompskut Massacre, and the argument does not come close to holding water.

 

Sokoki Sojourn and the Turners Falls Indians Debate

connecticut-river-sokwakik-map-brooks

The mid-Connecticut River valley, showing the traditional homelands of the Sokwakiak Abenaki (the Sokoki), known as Sokwakik (labelled in the center), south below Koasek to Peskeompskut (today’s Turners Falls). Map from Lisa Brooks’ The Common Pot: the Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast (2008).

Why would Sokoki Sojourn concern itself with the current discussion around the implications of maintaining or changing the Turners Falls Indians athletic mascot? As the social, cultural, ethical, and historical implications will be examined thoroughly in the ongoing media coverage (archived here), I would simply like to make the connection, geographically and personally, with several simple observations.

To the immediate north of what is now called Turners Falls, named after British colonial Captain William Turner, but known beforehand as Peskeompskut, lies the homeland of the Western Abenaki. Gill, Northfield, Bernardston, Vernon, Hinsdale, Brattleboro, and many other nearby towns, heading northward, lie upon this ancestral landscape and, due to their continuing presence, within the selfhood of the indigenous people.  The people of this land were and are called the Sokwakiak (today’s Sokoki), meaning “the people who were set apart or who separated.” The linguistic and historical connection  can be seen and heard clearly in the early European settler’s name for Northfield: Squakheag. This is an Anglicized derivation from the Abenaki name for the region, Sokwakik.

The people of this land were most certainly present at Capt. Turner’s dawn raid upon the sleeping fishing village on May 19, 1676. They were the de facto hosts at this peacefully neutral encampment, receiving their Algonquian cousins and political allies in Metacom’s Uprising (King Philip’s War): the Wampanoag, the Narragansett, the Nipmuck, the Pocumtuck, and no doubt members of other similarly disenfranchised Tribes. Hundreds died that day – primarily children, women, and elders – and the lives of the communities were never the same again. Which, really, brings us up to today: this is why Sokoki Sojourn has taken up the mantle. The story continues and there can be no peace without justice, no honor without truth.

Nolumbeka Project Calls for Change in Turners Falls Mascot

turners-falls-indians-uniform

The Nolumbeka Project, the non-tribal organization for New England’s Native American tribes, is calling for the end of the Turners Falls High School’s current mascot, the “Indians.” The statement, which says the organization collaborates with the Nipmuck Nation, the Narragansett, the Aquinnah Wampanoag, the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohicans and Elnu Abenaki, said all of the tribes do not condone the use of Native American symbols as team mascots or nicknames.

The statement comes as a response to public debate on whether the Gill-Montague Regional School Committee should change the high school’s mascot. The School Committee is set to debate the issue on Tuesday.

David Brule, the co-president of the Nolumbeka Project and a Turners Falls High School graduate, said that while many in the Turners Falls community believe the mascot honors the local Native American culture, it is not the place of those in the community who aren’t Native American to decide for those who are. “Our position is that the tribes are the sole judges of what ‘honors’ them or what does not,” says a statement released by Brule. “We understand the non-tribal traditions and misplaced pride of sports teams using Indian symbols and mascots, but the time has come to let it go.”

Read the full story in the Greenfield Recorder.

The Turners Falls Indians: Not Your Mascot

turners-falls-indians-graphic

Another showdown is brewing at Peskeompskut, at the southern edge of Sokwakik and just a few miles down the Kwanitekw. Below are links to the breaking story from area media this week:

http://www.recorder.com/Turners-Falls-Indian-Mascot-4718496

http://www.recorder.com/Mascot-review-sparks-petition-4745616

http://www.westernmassnews.com/story/33096260/turners-falls-considers-changing-mascot

The Gill-Montague Regional School District is considering a proposal for a review process of the Turners Falls High School Indians mascot. A draft of the review procedure was heard at the Committee’s Tuesday (Sept. 13, 2016) meeting; in reaction, a Change.org petition was begun the next day by those opposed to the considering the change.

Lew Collins, an alumni, is quoted as saying “…he views the mascot as a show of respect, not as something derogatory.”  “It really hurt that something like this could be taken away,” Collins said. “Everything we have, all of our traditions, could be pulled out from under us.”

This is practically a dictionary definition of entitlement… Whose traditions were (and are) summarily removed? It is a measure of the distance from the true nature of this situation that the usurpation becomes the defense. It is hardly even necessary to point out that the mascot graphic itself, rather than paying “homage to the Native American Men and Women who died as a result of the King Philip’s War,’ is a stereotypical portrayal of generic Plains culture regalia – the “ideal American Indian”. It bears no resemblance to the material culture of the indigenous peoples of the mid-Connecticut River valley: the Pocumtuk, the Nipmuk, the Nonotuck, and the Sokwakiak, and their allies present at the 1676 massacre, among them the Wampanoag and Narragansett. This is no tribute; it is a continuation of appropriation, exploitation, marginalization, and denial. Time for a reality check. The times they are a-changin’.