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It’s Time For JHS To Rise Above, Acknowledge And Remove The Mascot

Imagine you are attending your favorite high school sporting event, football. You’re sitting in the stands with your family, ready for the game to begin, snacks in hand, excitement in the air. The teams start to enter and your excitement quickly turns to hurt as you see the picture of an upside-down crucifix on a shield stitched on the visiting team’s uniforms. The “crusaders” they’re called. Of course, it is a change from their previous version of the mascot which included an image of the prophet Mohammad in battle gear holding the shield, but just as hurtful.

And still, there you are sitting in the stands with your family trying to enjoy the game, football, a sport central to your cultural history, doing your best to ignore the ignorant and hurtful misrepresentation of your culture — and then you hear them. Fans from the visiting team start to chant, “go back to where you came from.” The irony. They are the visiting team, playing the game of your culture, misrepresenting and desecrating your cultural practices and beliefs, telling you that you should go home. The home of your ancestors. Do they even know the history of this land? Do they understand how the racist symbols they showcase become internalized in the minds of youth within your community?

You look around at your family. Their excitement has become silence. You see your child cover the school name on their jacket in an attempt to escape the eyes and hateful words of the fans.

I can imagine you are reading this and shaking your head, possibly even laughing at the absurdity of such a scenario. Maybe a few of you are angry because of the symbols I chose to utilize in this narrative. The absurdity is not that I made up this fictional narrative to make a point, but that this narrative is based on the emotions and lived experiences Native youth face when they play against teams that have racist mascots misrepresenting their culture, mascots like Jamestown’s Red Raiders. Struggling to understand my logic? Here it is:

Cultural representation and recognition have significant psychological impacts on the way in which we perceive our identity, community, and culture. When absent, misrepresented, or appropriated it can cause barriers to academic achievement, career development, and social-emotional well-being.

This is especially true for youth who are experiencing important stages in their identity development during the time when school sports are a pillar in their educational experience. Think about it. I think we can all agree that if the Jamestown High School mascot was a minstrel wearing an African dashiki, people would acknowledge that it is racist, but a red J with eagle feathers symbolizing the “Red Raiders” is not racist? How?

Eagle feathers are central to the ceremonies and cosmology of several Indigenous nations to the extent that federal law states only an Indigenous person can own and hold an eagle feather. The color red is and has always been a racist connotation labeling Native Americans. Combining “red raiders” with eagle feathers is like combining an upside down crucifix with the prophet Mohammad, obscene, sacrilegious, and only intended to contribute to misunderstanding and harm. Now add on the fact that one of the favorite sports of JHS is lacrosse, a sport that originated from the originated from the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) nation. See where this is going?

Now, for those of you who have read up to this point and still say, “it’s my history, my school pride”, tell us this, how much harm is your pride worth? Also for what reasons, other than money and pride,should the school keep the mascot? In other words, show us the data that demonstrates the racist mascot has a direct relationship with the success and well-being of students at JHS, and how changing the mascot would cause harm.

As a scholar, counselor, and educator who has studied the impact of colonialism and racism within education, I can show you the data that demonstrates how harmful representation of Native and Indigenous cultures negatively impacts students and their communities.I can share the narratives of students I have spoken to who entered school loving their cultural identity and communities only to face his/stories which denied their existence, sports teams that appropriated their cultural and ceremonial practices, and educational structures which contributed to injustices which continue to place barriers in their path towards health, self-actualization, academic and career success, and community well-being.

As a JHS alumni who has lived in several areas across the nation (Midwest, Northwest, Southwest) I can tell you that when I share with people about my hometown and K-12 education, it’s not about the racist mascot. Instead I tell them about the opportunities I had to express myself through art and music.In addition to the educators who supported and challenged me to be open and curious to pursue new opportunities, many of which I never knew existed. How does JHS want to be remembered?

Although I have pride in my community and education, I also hold shame and embarrassment that Jamestown still ascribes to the belief that racist symbols are worth the fight when budgets continue to slash programs (including sports) which provide opportunities for students and their families. For those of you fighting to keep the mascot, what are you advocating for? Opportunity? Growth? Hate? Inequities? Do we really want to center our success as a school district on the barriers we erect which harm not only students in neighboring communities, but ignores the harm it places on our own students (yes, there are Native American students in Jamestown).

JHS it’s time to rise above. Acknowledge and remove the harmful mascot. Show our community and neighbors that we are more than a racist symbol. It’s time for JHS to do right by its students and model values and actions that are necessary for our continued growth and success as a society.

Dr. Katy Leigh-Osroosh is a 2006 graduate of Jamestown High School who now lives in San Diego.

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