PAW PAW - An estimated 300 to 400 people attended a special January 18 Paw Paw Board of Education meeting as it continued consideration of the school district’s use of a Redskin mascot.
Due to the large crowd, the board met in the Paw Paw Performing Arts Center (PAC) at Paw Paw High School.
During the night, presentations were given by representatives of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi.
In addition, a representative from each the Committee for Understanding and Respect and Native American Guardians Association spoke before the large crowd.
The meeting was scheduled to last until 11 p.m. and include 52 members of the audience who had asked to speak following the presenters. However, at 10 p.m., after two audience outbursts, Board President Karen Ayres, cut it short. “I’m going to put this into recess,” she said. “Things are getting out of hand.”
In his presentation, Sam Morseau, Director of Education for the Pokagon Band of Potowatomi, told the audience, “The Pokagon Band and Nottawaseppi Band of Potawatomi, original inhabitants of the greater Paw Paw community, have deemed the term “redskin” unacceptable and each nation has taken steps to address this.”
Morseau, using a Powerpoint presentation, said the Indian Removal Act of 1830, signed by President Andrew Jackson, forced Native Americans to move west of the Mississippi.
Approximately 20 years later, during the 1850s, the term “redskin” began to take on negative connotations, according to Morseau. He made reference to a newspaper article from that time that stated “Reports are coming in from various points in Arizona that the old pioneers of the Territory tempted by the reward of $250 for Indian scalps made by several counties in Arizona, have started out on the hunt for redskins with a view of obtaining their scalps.”
According to Morseau, in 1860, the reservation boarding school system was established to “assimilate” Native American into western civilization. Children as young as three were taken from their families and forced to relinquish all Native American traditions, language and culture.
Native Americans were not granted full United States citizenship until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.
Morseau also made reference to newspaper articles from the 1980s that referenced a Paw Paw girls’ basketball game against the Marshall Redskins. Quoting from an article in the News Palladium (now The Herald-Palladium) Morseau stated, “It was the battle of the Redskins Thursday night, but only one tribe came with its tomahawks at the ready.”
Morseau pointed out that last year, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians passed a resolution encouraging all schools to eliminate the use of the term “redskins” as a component of their mascot, name, or symbol.
NHBP Tribal Council Chair Jamie Stuck told the board and audience that a Native American Heritage Fund has been developed that will make a payment to the State of Michigan Strategic Fund equal to 6 to 8 percent of the gross revenues from the slot machines at Firekeepers Casino Hotel.
Stuck said, “The amendment allows for $500,000 of those funds to be deposited into the Native American Heritage Fund in 2017. In subsequent years, funds from that payment will be deposited into the NAHF sufficient to bring the total funds available back to $500,000.”
Stuck said the fund will provide grants for initiatives which promote positive relationships between public and private K-12 schools, colleges, universities, or local governments and Michigan federally-recognized Indian tribes.
Stuck said the the NAHF Board, which has yet to be formed, will develop bylaws and define the process by which schools, colleges, or universities and municipalities can apply to receive funds.
Stuck said the funds can covers expenses to purchase, develop, design, or publish educational resources or curricula related to Michigan Indian history.
It will also cover expenses incurred from a decision to replace or revise mascots and imagery which may be deemed offensive to Native Americans or which convey inaccurate representations of Native American cultures or values.
Eunice Davidson, of North Dakota, supports the Redskin as a mascot. Davidson is the author of the book, “Aren’t We Sioux Enough?” which told of the fight to keep the “Fighting Sioux” mascot at the University of North Dakota.
She said, “I see this as another genocide of our history. I really believe if you take away our names and our images what is going to happen to our people?”
Davidson doesn’t believe the name “redskin” is derogatory, and said that the umbrage some people take with it is misrepresented.
“I hear people talk about how its about scalping and all this," said Davidson. “No, you can Google it. You can look at it anywhere you want. (“Redskin” refers to) the color of the skin.”
Andre Billeaudeaux, executive director of the Native Americans Guardians Association said, “When we speak of Redskin, what I have come to know is that Redskin means red-painted warrior, redskin warrior. So whenever you have your reference to Redskin, if you read it again and put in Redskin warrior, I think you’ll see a different story unfolding.”
The board reconvened Monday night to continue to hear public comments. More than 100 people turned out for the meeting, this time, held in the Paw Paw High School cafeteria.
Approximately 30 of the original 52 people spoke before the board. They had been scheduled to take part in last week’s public participation.
Ayres warned everyone in the room that there would be “no racial slurs, no disrespect by someone who is speaking,” and all were “to have self-control.”
A Paw Paw High School senior told the board and audience that she has Paw Paw pride, “but I am not a Redskin.”
Another 2003 PPHS graduate told those gathered that during her sophomore year, “things that I wore were offensive. It was considered a racial slur, I was told.
“I was very proud of our achievements,” she said. “At the same time, I was not proud. It is offensive. I would apologize to anyone I offended.”
Another woman questioned the respect shown to Native Americans at last week’s board meeting saying, “I saw tribal leaders disrespected. They are honoring us? How is that honoring us?”
She said to the board, “Reach down to your hearts. You know what’s right and wrong. Reach down deep into your hearts and come up with that answer.”
One individual told the board that the district should develop a comprehensive study program about Native Americans that students could study.
Jeff Barnhart, a 1989 PPHS graduate, said that he never used Redskins in a negative manner while a student in the district. “The Not Your Mascot Movement does not have any business in Paw Paw,” said Barnhart.
Kim Jones, a Paw Paw resident, told the board, “Follow your hearts. Go with the community and please restore the Redskins.”
Paw Paw resident Mike Pioch said he told his children following last week’s meeting, “This is not how a civilized community works.” He said, “All this leads me to believe that it is time to change. I think it is time for us to be bold.”
Jeff Goldberg, a 1975 PPHS graduate said, “I’m not going to accept that (change). It should be voted on by the community. The taxpayers should be voting on it, not the small board up here.”
Following a recommendation to be made by Superintendent Sonia Lark, the board is expected to make a decision February 8, at a meeting in the high school cafeteria, beginning at 7 p.m.
Prior to the Wed., January 18 Board of Education meeting, Paw Paw Public Schools Superintendent Sonia Lark released the following public statement concerning discussions of the district’s continued use of its Redskin mascot.
The Board of Education members and Superintendent Lark have been listening with discernment to comments regarding the issue pertaining to the use of the word and imagery of the Paw Paw Public Schools’ Redskins during the past several months.
We’ve also been carefully reading materials sent to us describing the educational aspects of this decision. Resolutions made by MDE (Michigan Department of Education) and other educational organizations call for the elimination of the use of NAI (Native American imagery) names, imagery, logos, etc. for school mascots. The local Tribal Council of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi has a resolution against the use of the Redskin name for these same purposes.
We appreciate the contributions made by all those who have firm beliefs about this issue. There have been presentations made at three of the Board meetings allowing ex-tended time for learning. There have been two Board meetings held each month since August and public comment has been welcomed at each session. We are respectful of all viewpoints and have allowed this extended period of time to occur before making a decision on how or if there will be continued use of the Redskin name and imagery in the district.
Efforts have been made to ensure there have been no disruptions to the educational learning environment for our students. I commend our students, teachers and administrators for keeping the focus on learning at Paw Paw High School. Their motto is “Forward Every Day” and the behavior of our staff and students has been respectful throughout this process.
The issue is not a new one to Paw Paw Public Schools. There are references to the concern for the use of this name and image for a mascot since the late 1900s. There are also firm convictions expressed by those who support the use of the name and symbol claiming they use the Redskin name as a symbol of pride. The Board is looking closely at the issue to be sure it does not violate any Board policies or go against the mission and vision of Paw Paw Public Schools.
With the information shared in the past several months from many individuals and sources, the Board members will be making the decision at the Feb. 8, meeting of the Board of Education.