Parents, teachers, alumni and students spoke with one voice Tuesday night, urging Spokane Public Schools to do away with North Central High School’s “Indians” mascot and find another.
More than 50 people offered comment during the virtual public forum, part of a process that began last month when Principal Steve Fisk asked the district to take up the issue.
Fisk set the tone again on Tuesday, asking the board and attendees, “How do we continue to move toward with this symbol and not do harm with what it is?”
Fisk also stressed the importance of hearing “from all members of our community.”
During the next 90 minutes, the board heard from a diverse group of community members, but all spoke in favor of finding a new mascot.
They did so knowing that one day earlier, Gov. Jay Inslee had signed a law that requires school districts to begin phasing out the use of Native American names or symbols by Jan. 1, 2022, unless the district consults with the appropriate tribe on its use.
In a way, that process also began with North Central. When the bill was introduced in February, NC student Ivy Pete told legislators how demeaning the symbol is to Native Americans.
Pete, a student adviser to the school board, was on hand again as the efforts moved another step closer to reality.
“I feel like that’s really important as we work to make schools more equitable and safe for everyone, we can work as well toward cultural competency and making sure students feel welcomed,” she said.
The legislation has one caveat: Districts that are located on tribal land or in a county adjacent to tribal land have the opportunity to consult with the tribe before making the change.
However, after hearing from the public, it appears likely that the district will move forward soon to seek a new symbol to replace the 100-year-old NC Indian.
Most of Tuesday’s comments focused on the insensitivity of the mascot and its caricaturing of Native Americans.
“Native Americans aren’t ancient. They aren’t gone. They are here and they exist,” said Kayla Fontana, a 2019 NC graduate. “Not as a feather, not as a degrading cartoon plastered before the parking lot.”
One teacher said the symbol imparts the wrong message about Native American culture and diversity.
“These mascots are teaching stereotypes, misleading too often insulting images of American Indians,” said Tami McCracken, an assistant principal at NC.
Anne Walter, NC class of 1983, said she’s “witnessed the mascot to be harmful.”
Walter also noted that most of the resistance to change has come from alumni who cherish “tradition.”
“But we need to think about the kids who are walking the halls right now,” Walter said. “It’s harmful to them not to feel comfortable in their own halls.”
While the legislation allows retention of the mascot should neighboring tribes allow, some believe the Indians name should not be used at all.
“I’ve heard many people say that the mascot honors us as Native people,” said Heather Lemrey, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes. “It does not honor us. It disrespects our culture.”
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