Terra Nullius, Nobody’s Land, Free for the Taking

Wichita-Indians-Dwelling

The same story which has been told here, in n’dakinna. Vermont, in particular.

“The Wichita Indians are one more example of indigenous Americans who did not fit the stereotype of itinerant hunter-gatherers. That stereotype undergirds the legal theory that made Indian land available for settlement. The Americas, the argument goes, were sparsely populated by peoples who followed the game and annual ripening of berries and other foodstuffs available for gathering by savages who did not know how to raise their own food.

The hunter-gatherers lived in no fixed locations and so had no use for land titles. The empty lands that provided their sustenance were terra nullius, “nobody’s land,” free for the taking by sedentary farmers who represented civilization.”

Link to the story in Indian Country Today.

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

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

 

Local Indigenous Speakers Call for Education in Third Turners Falls Forum

cheryll-holley-lisa-brooks-turners-falls-mascot

Two local Native American speakers called for more education during their presentation at the third community event in the ongoing review of the Turners Falls High School’s mascot, currently the “Indians.” Chief Cheryll Toney Holley of the Hassanamesit Nipmuc Nation and Dr. Lisa Brooks, Amherst College professor and Abenaki, touched on a wide range of concerns, including the impact of Native imagery in mascots on Native American students. The school board is currently debating whether to keep the mascot.

Both speakers come from local Native American tribes and touched on the main arguments in the current Turners Falls debate, including the research and studies that show Native American mascots can have a negative impact on Native students.

“A lot of people are saying that you have this mascot to honor us,” Toney Holley said. “It does not honor us in any way.”

Full report  by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

Native American Viewpoint is Topic of Third Turners Falls Mascot Forum

turners-falls-theater-mascot-forum

For those following of the ongoing discussion about the Turners Falls High School mascot, there will be a third educational forum on Monday that will cover the local Native American perspective. Chief Cheryll Toney Holley of the Hassanamesit Nipmuc Nation and Dr. Lisa Brooks, Amherst College professor and an Abenaki, are the scheduled presenters.

The two will be discussing the local Native American perspective in relation to the school’s ongoing debate whether to keep the mascot, which is currently the “Indians.” Two previous presentations included a historical perspective and a social justice, multicultural one.

The event will be held in the Turners Falls High School Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, and the presentations will be followed by a question-and-answer session. The fourth and final event is set for Jan. 5 and will be about the Turners Falls High School alumni perspective. Speakers have yet to be announced by the district.

Link to original story in Greenfield Recorder.

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.

Valdiviezo Addresses Social Justice at Second TF Educational Forum

laura valdiviezo turners falls forum

Laura Valdiviezo, an associate professor from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst College of Education, answered questions and spoke to the possible processes the school district might enact when deciding whether to keep or change the Turners Falls High School mascot, currently the Indians.

She spoke about the multicultural and social justice perspectives as it pertains to the current mascot debate. Valdiviezo presented several studies that showed negative effects of Native American mascots and logos on Native American students and discussed national organizations that have called for the end of use of Native American imagery with sports teams.

Valdiviezo said that either way, change should happen. Either the mascot itself will change or the school should take steps to incorporate local Native Americans into decisions about the mascot and how the school represents the “Indians.” She recommended collaboration and conversations with local Native Americans.

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