Native Americans in Kansas are speaking out in support of Shawnee Mission North’s retirement of its long-time mascot, the Indians.
The high school announced Tuesday that it is now the home of the Bison, following a months-long process and vote by students.
In January, the Shawnee Mission school board approved a new policy that barred mascots deemed derogatory or offensive, following widespread criticism of their use of Native American imagery.
Kansas state Rep. Christina Haswood, a member of the Navajo Nation, said she was proud to finally see a new mascot chosen.
“There has been a history of past Indigenous students of Shawnee Mission North fighting for the change, and it is really great to see the younger generation get the mascot change passed,” Haswood said in a statement.
Ben Barnes, chief of the Shawnee Tribe, was also involved in asking the school board to revise its policy.
“Educational institutions have a key responsibility in teaching accurate history, and that includes ensuring that their school culture does not contribute to Indigenous erasure and stereotypes," Barnes said. "It’s heartening to see this shift from Shawnee Mission North."
Three Shawnee Mission elementary schools with mascots that referenced Native Americans have also selected new mascots. The district announced the new mascots Wednesday:
- Belinder Bears, formerly Braves
- Rushton Red-Tailed Hawks, formerly Indians
- Shawanoe Bison, formerly Indians
Rhonda LeValdo, an enrolled member of the Acoma Pueblo who is on the faculty at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, also voiced her support. She said using Native Americans as mascots is harmful to the students who have to face the images when attending these schools.
“When you're a kid, you think that people are making fun of you and what you're supposed to be like," LeValdo said. "In reality, that's not who we are."
Carole Cadue-Blackwood, an enrolled member of the Kickapoo tribe of Kansas, said the mascot change is “long overdue.” As a caseworker with the Kansas City Indian Center, she says she's seen firsthand the impact these mascots have on the self-esteem of Native American children.
“When you walk in the room, and as soon as you see some teacher with some imagery of Native Americans as the mascots, you just know that the bar is set low for you,” said Cadue-Blackwood, who is also a Lawrence school board member. “Because you're not seen at the same level as others who are not Native American.”
Cadue-Blackwood said that, while attending sporting events in the Lawrence school district, she would sometimes see SM North’s Indian mascot at games. She said her children “shut down” when they heard the mascot perform a stereotypical war-chant.
LeValdo said she has heard similar experiences from students on her weekly radio show, Native Spirit Radio on KKFI 90.1. She said that the “Indian princess” and Brave mascots seen at these games, as well as other Native American caricatures, are often an inaccurate portrayal of the tribe they claim to be representing.
“As native people, we’re from different tribes, so a lot of times they mesh these different mascots from a Plains Indian-type person, when you're not even Plains Indian,” LeValdo said.
Cadue-Blackwood said these mascots play a greater societal role in dehumanizing Native Americans, and can lead to higher rates of sexual abuse and violence against their communities.
According to a study from the National Congress of American Indians’ Policy Research Center, 84.3% of American Indian and Alaskan Native women have experienced some sort of violence in their lifetime.
“There is a link to how the imagery, the mascots, and the portrayal in the media does contribute to sexual and domestic violence because it dehumanizes you. We're seen as sub-human,” Cadue-Blackwood said.
Cadue-Blackwood said beyond retiring these mascots, the state of Kansas needs to begin requiring mandatory education on Native American history in schools. She argues this education falls under the capacities included in the Kansas State Board of Education’s Rose Standards.
“The schools must have curriculums that have cultural grounding to support the students. That means everybody across the board. There's a definite need to require Native American history, LGBTQ, and Latinx studies,” Cadue-Blackwood said.
She said education is necessary because she feels people forget there are still Native Americans in their communities.
LeValdo is also a founding member of Not In Our Honor, a coalition of Native Americans against the use of the Native mascots, names and imagery.
“We're all around Kansas City, we're all around Lawrence, we're all around Shawnee, we're always going to be here," LeValdo said. "And people are always going to say something against those mascots."
Now that new mascots have been chosen, Shawnee Mission schools will work to finalize the logos. Those will be released as they become available, according to the district.