Retire the Canal Winchester Indian as a Mascot

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Dear Mr. Sotlar, Mr. Durbin, and School Board Members;

The students, alumni, community members, and supporters of the Canal Winchester Local School District named below call upon administration to promote a district culture of anti-racism and compassion by retiring our mascot, the Canal Winchester Indian. We, as a community, uphold human dignity, self-esteem, and respect as inalienable rights. However, we cannot claim to stand for equality in our schools while promoting a racial caricature of the Native American people in our country. We offer a suggestion for a non-discriminatory mascot—the maroon-tailed hawk, allowing our district colors and feather symbolism to remain. 

In the wake of the senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Toyin Salau, and countless other marginalized American people, our eyes have been opened to the dangers of systemic racism in the United States. Working for a more equitable society requires honesty and introspection. We must ask ourselves how we have contributed to the oppression of others and what steps we can take to heal our communities. For hundreds of years, Native American peoples have been dehumanized, displaced, and disadvantaged by society. We, as a school district, perpetuate derogatory stereotypes and generalizations by using the race and culture of human beings as our mascot. 

The use of Native American symbolism for our mascot is harmful for many reasons. Students who dress up as our school’s mascot wear a feather headdress and beaded leather attire. It is naive to claim that this is an accurate representation of Native American cultures. Native tribes have an amazing diversity of traditions and cultural clothing; there are 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States alone. The feathered headdress, also called a war bonnet, used by our mascot is only traditionally worn by male leaders of the American Plains Nations, signifying that they have earned a place of high respect. In these Native communities, the headdresses are ceremonial items of great spiritual and political importance, only to be worn by those who have been bestowed the right and honor by their people. By appropriating this piece of regalia at our sporting events and in our logos, we are both erasing the culture of Native groups that do not don the war bonnet and mocking the right to wear a piece of highest cultural value. Furthermore, Native Americans themselves did not have religious freedom and were prohibited by law from using these sacred items until the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978. 

By using an entire race of people as a mascot to “lead us into battle,” we are teaching those in our school district to uphold the stereotype of Native Americans as the “Noble Savage,” only capable of war and violence. The tomahawk chop chant used by our student section is another inaccurate symbol of the violence of Native people groups. These references are an insult to the actual history and experiences of Native communities, who were largely the victims of mass violence after the European invasion of the Americas. In the genocide of Native American people by European weapons and disease, is estimated that approximately 20 million people died within the first few generations of cohabitation, wiping out 95% of the population. In the hundreds of years since then, Native peoples have been violently uprooted from their ancestral homes and sequestered into communities with inadequate access to food and healthcare. We, as a community that has not faced the same generational trauma, do not have the right to trivialize and devalue the struggles of these disenfranchised people in our choice of mascot. 

Some people might claim that being the Canal Winchester Indians celebrates and uplifts Native American culture. While this is a palatable sentiment, it could not be further from the truth, as we are instead contributing to the destruction of Native culture and mental wellbeing. In 2005, the American Psychological Association called for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools and athletic organizations. There is growing scientific evidence that the stereotypes enforced by American Indian Mascots are harmful to the social identity development and self-esteem of Native American young people. As a school district, it should be our responsibility to protect and empower these children and adolescents, rather than teach them that their traditions and religion are commodities and caricatures. 

Additionally, Native American people experience disproportionate levels of adverse health outcomes due to the socioeconomic and racial biases stacked against them. Their communities face high mortality rates from chronic and preventable illness, with a life expectancy 4.4 years below average. Research indicates that, for Native people, discrimination and stereotyping predict increased prevalence of mental health conditions such as mood and anxiety disorders, PTSD, substance abuse and dependence, and suicidality. Furthermore, Native American individuals have the nation’s highest likelihood of being the victim of a violent hate crime by a person of another race, and they face the highest rate of death by police brutality. Additionally, the Navajo and Hopi Nations currently have the country’s highest rate of Coronavirus infection. When we consider the geographic isolation from hospital services, insufficient number of healthcare providers, and historically severe underfunding of the Indian Health Service, it is clear that the medical systems currently in place in our country have failed our Native people. How can we claim to respect Native Americans with our mascot choice when we have not made a single effort to right these real injustices that plague Native people?

Mr. Sotlar, you have pledged to “continue to work on cultural proficiency in our schools to ensure that ALL Students are Empowered for Success.” Please do not forget that promise when it comes to students of Native descent. To quote former APA President Ronald Levant: "The use of American Indian mascots as symbols in schools and university athletic programs is particularly troubling because schools are places of learning. These mascots are teaching stereotypical, misleading and too often, insulting images of American Indians. These negative lessons are not just affecting American Indian students; they are sending the wrong message to all students." Since the 1960’s, the National Congress of American Indians has asked schools to end the era of Native American mascots. Let us listen to the voices of our country’s Native people and strive to be an educational institution that promotes equity and respect for ALL people and cultures. 


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