Retire the Racist Mascot at Erie's East Middle School
Retire the Racist Mascot at Erie's East Middle School
Why this petition matters
Over 100 years ago, like many other predominantly white schools across the United States, what was then known as East High School adopted the stereotypical savage depiction of a Plains Indian Chief as their "Warrior" mascot.
For decades, racist imagery such as scalping, r*dskin, and other harmful caricatures of Native people, to include demeaning use of sacred symbols and cultural practices.
Accompanying this was the casual use of derogatory terminology like calling female students "sq*aws" in school literature and functions, wearing facepaint and "Native" costumes.
Even though East High School closed in 2017, the Middle School formed in its place continues to use a racist depiction of a Native person: a cartoonish image created by a company in New Zealand, downloaded from Shutterstock.com displayed everywhere across the school and school materials. This imagery, like most of the past 'Native" caricatures used by the school over the century, are not unique nor are they made in consultation or approval by Indigenous people or tribes.
Students and area residents with Native heritage, as far back as 1993, have spoken out against this racist depiction at East High School, but the school district has ignored their pleas.
For over 50 years, Indigenous communities and advocates have pushed for the end of these mascots, part of the much longer fight for visibility, for an end to oppressive policies, and for a recognition and restoration of their humanity, not just for that which is critically important history, but also for the right to have a future free from the humiliation, racism, oppression, and denial of autonomy and agency.
The NCAI (National Congress of American Indians) said, "rather than honoring Native peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuate negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples, and contribute to a disregard for the personhood of Native peoples." It is time we finally listen to the words of these people and put an end to the bigotry.
In 2020, the President of the Seneca Nation of Indians, Rickey L. Armstrong, Sr., said “the Seneca people have seen and suffered the indignity of having our language and culture stripped from us, and our spirit and heritage and race assaulted time and again. That is not something that should be celebrated in the name of sportsmanship nor used to identify the character and spirit of a school community. Cultural tolerance and sensitivities are an important part of the national and local dialogue. As educational institutions, local school districts can now teach an important and valuable lesson in their communities.”
In 2021, Dr. Edward Jolie, of Oglala Lakota and Hodulgee Muscogee descent, and at the time a faculty member of Mercyhurst University's anthropology department, in this same article said, "It's not like we're making this up or we're offering an opinion. This is supported by empirical evidence. There's scientific data, peer-reviewed studies to support this."
Since 2001, the American Psychological Association has affirmed the harmful effects of American Indian mascots, symbols, images, and personalities by schools, and continues to call for the immediate retirement of Native mascots, stating that their continued use “undermines the educational experiences of members of all communities—especially those who have had little or no contact with Indigenous Peoples; establishes an unwelcome and often times hostile learning environment for American Indian students that affirms negative images/stereotypes that are promoted in mainstream society; and has a negative impact on the self-esteem of American Indian children."
Suzan Shown Harjo, of Cheyene and Hodulgee Muscogee heritage, President of the Morning Star Institute, a national Native rights organization, who has led mascot abolition efforts for four decades, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1992, saying that, “most of the things that cartoon us or dehumanize us, contribute to a low self-esteem of Native teenagers, leading to the highest teen suicide rate of any ethnic group in the United States.”
A fact and figure which is still true to this day.
If you’re clinging to those racist caricatures, like the East Middle School Warrior, it’s time to let it go. The "Native" Warrior mascot has honored no one, a person and people whose savagery have never existed except in the minds and entertainment of the same dominant society which fabricated black face minstrels, mammies, and yellow peril invaders.
Paula Mohuhn, a lecturer on Native American History in Madison Wisconsin, who was featured in a recent student-led documentary on Native Mascots, stated that, “The only people being honored by Native American mascots, are Europeans, because it’s a conquered image. You are honoring something that fought back.”
In 2021, Nikki Pitre from the Center for Native American Youth said “Native youth are resilient, and worthy of a future where society sees them for who they are, beyond the caricatures and stereotypes that are the result of race-based mascots.
In 2021, Cynthia Connolly, of the Lake Erie Native American Council said, “we’re almost always pushed in the historical past, and it makes it very difficult for people to view us as a modern people and empathize with our modern issues when they only view us as feathered and leathered from the 1800s.”
A key pillar and action item in the Erie School District's 2018-2024 Strategic Plan is the development of "culturally inclusive school and district practices" and "validating student's social and cultural identities."
In 2020, the Erie School Board unanimously approved a resolution “Supporting the Development of an Anti-Racist School Climate” stating that “we acknowledge that we must look at our own school policies and practices through an anti-racist and equity lens to address traces of racism and inequity that still exist within our own school community” and “we commit to use our role as school board directors to recognize, respond, and speak out against injustice and racial inequity in our school community.”
The "Warrior" name is not at issue here, but the racist stereotype is. Removing the racist imagery isn’t a loss to anyone, and there is no benefit or gain for maintaining its gross and demeaning presence for a single day longer.
It is now time for the Erie School District to respect the scientific evidence about the harm of these racist stereotypes, to honor it's own words to provide a school environment free from discrimination which has a direct impact on the mental health and academic success of our students, and to heed the overwhelming calls from Indigenous people schools like Erie Middle School need to retire "Native" mascots immediately, and let the students choose a new mascot that is not rooted in racist stereotypes.