By Kendra Hennis
If you’re on Facebook, or not, you’ve likely seen debates over the last week about keeping or changing the Warrior mascot.
The events began with a change.org petition created by TCHS Alumni Marnie Leonard (Class of 2014), Nicole Mannen (Class of 2014), and Glenda Wold (Class of 2015) to present to the Tuscola school board titled “Make Tuscola schools culturally inclusive.” Petitioners began by saying, “The Tuscola school district website says it aims to help students “become responsible citizens with an understanding of the global interdependence of all people and societies in an ever-changing environment.” This is an admirable goal. Tuscola students should be given the tools to be well-educated global citizens — cross-cultural communication and understanding is an important skill, one that grows more and more vital every day. However, Tuscola schools are not currently meeting this goal and Tuscola students often leave our schools unprepared to live in culturally diverse communities. We, as Tuscola graduates who have left town to live in vastly more diverse cities and countries, can attest to this experience. We’re willing to bet that many alumni would say the same. Additionally, the district has three basic expectations of everyone: be respectful, be responsible, and be safe. The district also explains its responsibility to students on the TCHS welcome page: that the “administration, faculty, and staff strive to offer a safe and supportive environment where our students can grow personally, socially and develop the personal characteristics that will prepare them to be productive citizens […]”. Unfortunately, in spite of these standards, racism is present in our schools. The school board has, in fact, already heard testimony on this from current students of color and their parents. Many studies show how and why the presence of racism in schools creates a hostile, unsafe environment for students and faculty of color. A safe and supportive environment cannot exist when bullying of any form is present.”
The first point of their petition is calling for curriculum revision, to “conduct and full review of current curriculum in all Tuscola schools and develop or revise policies and protocols that integrate additional racially and culturally relevant content, along with anti-racism instruction, into the curriculum.”
The second point of the petition was titled concrete action, and addresses establishing a lecture or assembly series addressing anti-racism, declaring the second Monday in October as “Indigenous People’s Day”, publicly commit to being an anti-racist school district, expand mandatory diversity, inclusion, equity, and implicit bias training, and “establish a comprehensive reporting procedure for both students and teachers who witness or experience racism. This requires a collaborative effort and the acknowledgement that racism does exist in this community and is not tolerated.”
The final point of the petition is to redesign imagery. The points in this included “add specific provisions to student dress codes that prohibit racist and/or cultural appropriative imagery, including the Confederate flag, Nazi imagery, and appropriated Native American symbols. With the added provisions, the administration should provide leadership, support, and training so the rules are effectively enforced.” Secondly, to “redesign the Warrior mascot. Merriam Webster defines a warrior as “a person engaged in some struggle or conflict”. Most images that appear when searching “warrior” are of soldiers with swords and shields. Tuscola can adopt this imagery instead of appropriating, reducing, and caricaturing Native American cultures and peoples to an image of violence.” The third point is that the “Warpath/ Tomahawk Chop/ War Chant must no longer be played at school events. This song, like the imagery of the present mascot, has and continues to appropriate, reduce, and caricature Native American cultures and peoples to an image of violence.” And the final point under redesigning imagery is a “suggested solution for our mascot history: Create an exhibit in the TCHS lobby display cases informing why this mascot existed and why it has been changed. This is also an opportunity to educate students whose land Tuscola is occupying, their history, and who they are [via native-land.ca, the Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), Myaamia (Miami), and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux)].”
Following this, a second petition was created on change.org by TCHS Senior Alex Brooks. Brooks’ petition states, “there is a petition to get rid of the mascot and name Warriors in Tuscola, IL. The name Warrior has been around for hundreds of years and has made itself known throughout Illinois. As a fellow football player, I find it a huge honor to take the field with the black and gold spears on my helmet and the word Warrior across my chest. I do not see the Tuscola Warrior name as a sign of racism but a sign of a proud history, a strong sports program, and a huge supporting hand in the community. If you believe in the words “Always a Warrior!”, help me out and sign this petition.
Brooks’ petition was heavily circulated on Facebook, sparking a lot of discussion and disagreement about keeping or reimaging the Warrior. Original petitioners Leonard, Mannen, and Wold invited the public to join them in a conversation about the mascot on Saturday, August 1 at 2 p.m. at Ervin Park.
A small group was in attendance for Saturday’s meeting, with some even traveling to be at the meeting. The meeting was moderated by Stephanie Fortado, who works at the University of Illinois. The group decided on simple rules: no personal attacks, no interrupting, no political affiliation involvement, to listen to understand, respectful ability to agree to disagree, no use of derogatory language, and step up to to step back (talk, and let talk others as well).
The meeting began by Leonard, Mannen, and Wold presenting their petition and some of the points that they made in the petition. They explained that Tuscola students recieve little education about Native Americans, and that the least they could do is educate students about the history and the mascot.
Two of the visitors of the meeting were Ivan Dozier and Breelyn Fay, who are both of Native American descent. The two travel around to towns who are discussing the removal of Native American names and images in order to provide their perspective and give more information. Fay made the argument that it is more important to educate people than it is to erase the Native American history. Dozier said that he has a problem with only doing an exhibit and labeling everything in the past, and would instead like to educate students and the community as to why they should be proud of the mascot. Dozier said that he wanted the Tuscola Warrior imagery to be done in a way that was honorable and prideful.
Leonard asked if they were currently okay with the symbols and the current way that they are being used. Dozier said that he personally did not have an issue with the current way that the symbol was being used but that he wanted to make sure that Tuscola makes a positive connection with the community and the Native American symbols that are being used.
After some more conversation, Leonard said that they were in agreement that the base goal here is to educate students. Dozier agreed that there is a gap in education. He said that “if you aren’t able to explain the symbol that you’re wearing, then you should not be wearing it.” He noted that it is easier to scrap the Native American history than to teach the history, but it is important to teach the history, especially the deep Native American roots in Tuscola and Illinois. Fay agreed and said that there are a lot of teachable moments, and that she would be happy to come into the school sometime and teach more about what she knows about the culture.
Dozier said that Tuscola could remove the symbol, or they could say that they have the responsibility to teach others, and be an example for other schools on how to do it right.
Leonard agreed and said that their petition was never intended to be a tell-all, they simply wanted to prompt the conversation and work to create the best curriculum possible for all Tuscola students. Dozier commented that he is excited that Tuscola is willing to have this conversation and he would like to help the town to better.
Leonard said that they would like to work with Dozier and Fay moving forward to help educate students. Mannen noted that they would like to get more people involved and have more community conversations moving forward. Dozier also noted that while there is not much of a current curriculum out there, that he has worked to create a Google document of information that he would like to share with the schools.
The meeting ended on the note that the group would like to continue the conversation and continue to learn more. Leonard, Mannen, and Wold have reached out to the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma and the Native American House on the University of Illinois campus in regards to their statement about the mascot. Currently, they have not received any updates. Mannen said that at this time there are no plans to have another public discussion, but she is open to taking questions from anyone if they would like to reach out to her. She also said that if there is the want for another public forum, they could work together to schedule something.
Mannen said, “I was really happy with how the meeting went, and I learned a lot personally from everyone who attended. Part of our goal with the petition was to start a conversation in the community, and I think we have done that. I want people to know that as a fellow Tuscolian, this is not about being ashamed or judging this town or the people in it. Speaking for myself, I learned that the use of Native American imagery is a complex issue. I think it’s really important for us to recognize that Natives who feel the use of Native American imagery is offensive are entirely justified, and the Natives who feel the use of Native American imagery honors their heritage are also entirely justified. What is important to me is that our students and the Tuscola community have a comprehensive understanding of local Native American history, and that is something we are working on putting together as a collaborative effort as we speak. A lot of people can agree that so much of the local Native American history has been lost, and excellent resources to teach this history are hard to find. I think learning the Native American history from our area would make people even more proud to be a Tuscola Warrior.”
If you are interested in more information, both petitions can be found on change.org as well as Facebook. The Tuscolians for Racial Justice group can also be found on Facebook or reached via email at tuscolaRJ@gmail.com.