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.

 

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Turners Falls Indians: Chopping the Chop Understood by Most

Op-Ed in the Greenfield Recorder Dec. 16, 2016. Full column here.

Trying to sort out the issues, let alone the feelings, associated with Gill-Montague Regional School District’s “Indians” mascot can be challenging.But the picture should be clearer with respect to the “Tomahawk Chop” — a way cheerleaders and pep band charged up the football team’s fans, until the School Committee banned the practice in 2009, that is.

The School Committee at that time concluded correctly that the gesture, however innocently employed, was offensive to Native Americans. The committee chose to ban the practice, specifically citing the band and cheerleaders in the minutes of the meeting, although the discussion preceding the vote implied the ban would apply to all school-sponsored groups.

That was well and good, and concern over the chop faded. But, unfortunately, school officials never codified the school board vote into a written policy that was spelled out in the student handbook or athletic codes. So, many in the community became confused and upset when their football team was criticized for using the chop at the Thanksgiving Day game — for violating a policy that was actually hard to find.

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The last few words of the column could be taken as an insightful Freudian slip: “…although we think that should remain a settled issue.”

Teaching Moment for Turners Falls Community

An editorial in the 12.08.2016 Greenfield Recorder, following the Thanksgiving game incidents. Full op-ed here.

As the Gill-Montague Regional School Committee continues to work toward a decision on whether to continue using Indians as its team nickname, a teaching moment has emerged from the recent Thanksgiving Day football game.

Since the fall, the School Committee has been taking steps to guide its decision— from airing public sentiment at hearings to gathering relevant historical and cultural information from local experts.

While this process is an important one, it has also provided a public stage for conflict between those who see the Indians nickname evoking respect and school pride and others who say it is hurtful and insensitive to Native Americans. Into this heated but generally civil debate, a headdress and the “Tomahawk Chop” made an appearance during the game between Turners Falls and longtime rival, Greenfield.

Turners Falls Community Invited to Educational Forums

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Just below the Great Falls at Peskeompskut. Photo by Cheryll Toney Holley, from her blog For All My Relations.

After passionate hearings where the public weighed in on Turners Falls High School’s use of “Indians” for its identity on the athletic fields and beyond, the focus now shifts. The Gill-Montague Regional School Committee is planning to hold a series of what are being called “educational forums” that examine different aspects of the issue that has segments of the community at odds. The four events scheduled are set to make an in-depth examination of a piece of the story.

Recognizing that feelings on both sides of the matter are running hot and that many minds appear to be made up, we nevertheless urge the community to be prepared to listen. This is what those who spoke before the committee during its hearings wanted, after all — to have people listen to their pleas, their thoughts and wishes about the future of the use of  “Indians” imagery by the high school.

Absorb the full op-ed in the Greenfield Recorder.

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.

 

Maine Owes the Wabanaki People Sovereignty and Respect; It’s Long Overdue

An op-ed article in the Bangor (ME) Daily News ( June 29, 2015), as a followup to the final report  of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Commission, also referred to as the Maine TRC, presented their complete findings and recommendations on Sunday, June 14.