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Complaint seeks to remove American Indian names from local schools

Updated: Monday, February 11 2013, 10:35 AM EST
Complaint seeks to remove American Indian names from local schools  story image
WEST MICHIGAN (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – The Michigan Department of Civil Rights says it has filed a complaint on behalf of all students who identify themselves as American Indians.

Nearly a dozen school districts in West Michigan are among those targeted in the discrimination complaint. The agency believes the mascots or nicknames of those schools are racially insensitive.

It’s an old debate that has been sparked once again. Some schools have wrestled with the idea of changing their mascots and nicknames, finding there’s little to no support for it, however the state’s Department of Civil Rights believes it creates a hostile environment.

So what is in a school’s nickname? That depends on who you ask, but it can give a town, or a sports team a sense of pride, while others see it as denying equal rights.

The Paw Paw Redskins are one of 35 school districts coming under fire after the Michigan Department of Civil Rights filed a discrimination complaint Friday with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights.

Tonya Beer is a Pokagon Band tribal member and her daughter is a cheerleader at Paw Paw. She says she has no issue with the nickname.

“We all know what happened to the Native Americans,” said Beer, “so I think being a mascot and being recognized as that; it’s petty if you’re going to get upset over that.”

The school districts listed in the complaint include the Athens Indians, Belding Redskins, Dowagiac Chieftains, Hartford Indians, Morley Stanwood Mohawks, Paw Paw Redskins, Saranac Redskins, Saugatuck Indians, Tekonsha Indians, White Cloud Indians and White Pigeon Chiefs.

Paw Paw’s superintendent told Newschannel 3 that he’s aware of the complaint, but is waiting to see what comes out of the office of civil rights.

The district looked at the issue a few years previously and found that those graduates who were Native American were not offended.

“We ran around our basketball games with a mascot,” said Paw Paw student Evan Richardson. “We had a senior last year who would come around with the head ties on, that’s it, but he was Indian himself.”

According to the complaint, the term ‘redskin’ is historically a racial slur and the MDCR wants these mascots, names and even chants banned from the schools.

“It’s not offensive to me, and I don’t really understand the offense to others,” said parent Maria Richardson, “but if they are, they’re entitled to their opinion.”

Hartford’s superintendent told Newschannel 3 on Friday that local tribal leaders called him and said that they are not responsible for the complaint.

Newschannel 3 also tried reaching out the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, but did not hear back.

You can look at the complaint yourself by clicking here. Complaint seeks to remove American Indian names from local schools
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