Near the end of a panel discussion Wednesday night on the appropriateness of the use of “Redskins” as a mascot, Shoshone-Bannock tribal member Randy’L Teton laid out her feelings in no uncertain terms.
“We need to stop with the racism and the cultural misappropriation,” she told the crowd at the Teton High School auditorium in Driggs, Idaho.
Teton was one of five Native American speakers assembled to give input on a debate over Teton High’s Redskins mascot and whether to replace it. The others were Larry Teton, a Shoshone-Bannock elder and rancher; Michelle Beitinger, who lives locally and is a descendant of Washington state’s Colville Confederated Tribes; Amanda Blackhorse, an activist and member of the Navajo Nation; and Northern Arapaho member Sergio Maldonado.
The debate over the mascot has arisen because Stephanie Crockett, whose children attended Teton High, brought up the subject in a March 11 Teton School District 401 school board meeting, asking the board to take up whether to change the mascot, according to the Teton Valley News. The board scheduled a July 8 meeting in the Teton High auditorium to discuss the matter.
Proponents of the change argue that the mascot — even though the high school no longer has someone dress up as an Indian for sporting events and assemblies — is racist and is a term grounded in cultural subjugation of indigenous people.
Opponents of the change argue that Redskins is meant to honor Native Americans and is part of Teton Valley’s heritage.
“We have lots of stories about the settlers and the natives that came through here,” said Tracy Tonks, an organizer of the group Save the Redskins. “And why would you name your school after someone you didn’t like or you didn’t like what they represent?”
However, the speakers’ message was that the intention of the mascot is not the problem. They took issue with its impact, saying it perpetuates stereotypes of Native Americans and produces psychological trauma in indigenous children.
Community members wrote questions for the panel on index cards as they walked in. Some were straightforward.
“What is your immediate reaction when you see someone wearing Redskins apparel?” moderator Marcia Franklin asked.
“There’s not a lot of judgment if it’s a kid wearing it,” Beitinger said. “When I see it from the adults, my immediate thought is it’s meant to be confrontational, especially in today’s environment.”
Larry Teton was more succinct.
“It’s just a piece of rag with words on it,” he said. “It just bugs me.”
Several in attendance from the Save the Redskins group came prepared with a list of questions. They included: Why is it OK for reservation schools to use native iconography for mascots but not Teton High? Why after 90 years of having the mascot is this the time indigenous people are opposing such mascots? And is this part of a larger push toward decolonization, and does that include pushing nonnatives off land they have settled?
Answering perhaps the most controversial question, that of pushing nonnative people off the land, Blackhorse said decolonization is a topic “of the mind, of the body, of the spirit,” a way for indigenous people to reclaim the cultural identity lost by enduring decades of genocide, ceding their ancestral lands and being forced to abandon their native tongues.
She and the other panelists said that opposing Redskins as a mascot is a way to solidify that cultural identity, and Randy ‘L Teton said that native schools that use symbols like “Chiefs” are entitled to do so because they are truly descended from chiefs and have that as part of their heritage.Though they opposed the mascot, the panelists also spoke of creating closer ties with Teton Valley and of ways Native American history could be better integrated into the area’s schools.
“Being here tonight and being able to be at the school board meeting [on July 8] means a lot,” Randy’L Teton said in closing. “Our hope is that we are able to work with the school board and all of you to have a healthy dialogue.”