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Washington Redskins’ debate filters down to Michigan high school nicknames

MLive - Jackson logo MLive - Jackson 7/10/2020 By Hugh Bernreuter, mlive.com
a close up of a logo: Paw Paw High School Redskins logo on soccer scoreboard at Paw Paw High School, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. Daniel Vasta © Daniel Vasta | MLive.com/Daniel Vasta/mlive.com/TNS Paw Paw High School Redskins logo on soccer scoreboard at Paw Paw High School, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. Daniel Vasta

As pressure mounts on the NFL’s Washington franchise to drop its Redskins nickname, four high schools in Michigan are still holding on to the moniker.

Clinton, Sandusky, Saranac and Camden-Frontier, near Hillsdale, all still call their teams the Redskins – a name that one Native American official in Michigan thinks should be banished.

“There will never be an excuse for that or the indignant nature or the indifference toward that name,” said Frank Cloutier, director of public relations and past chief of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

Already this year, one Michigan high school has taken steps to drop the name.

Paw Paw’s board of education approved removing its Redskins nickname and will vote Monday on a change to Red Wolves.

“It’s been a difficult process, and it’s been a big topic here the last couple of years,” said Paw Paw superintendent Rick Reo , adding the district switched course just three years after deciding to stick with the name.

“One of the reasons we made the change was to eliminate the division between people in our community. The swing point for us was that we had to revisit our mission as a school district. What are we here for? Are there things that are getting in the way of our mission? That led us in this direction.”

Another school, Marquette, is considering changing its Redmen nickname – a name that initially came from a reference to a red Harvard sweater but one that for years also used a logo of a Native American.

Cloutier would like to see more schools follow Paw Paw’s move, including those with names such as Indians, Braves and Warriors.

“In our history, we weren’t warriors … we weren’t savages,” Cloutier said. “We were hunters and gatherers. But that’s not a romantic name for a football or basketball team.

“Warriors is a very generic term that can come from different nationalities, so why does it have to depict Native Americans? You want to be a Warrior? Nazis had warriors. Put a Nazi up there. The same with Braves. Every culture had brave people. But Native Americans are depicted with that nickname. That’s OK, but if you’re going to be a Brave, how are you going to draw those parallels? How are you going to appropriately celebrate that culture?”

In Michigan, there are two schools that use Braves (Gladstone and Tawas) and seven that are Chiefs and Chieftains (Capac, Canton, Cheboygan, Okemos, White Pigeon, Dowagiac and Utica), along with one Chippewas (Manistee), one Eskymos (Escanaba) and one Mohawks (Morley Stanwood).

a close up of a sign: Michigan Coalition Against Racism in Sports & Media billboard on I-94 in Paw Paw, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. The billboard was posted as an educational public service announcement confronting racism in use of the term \"redskin\" with the Paw Paw High School football team name. Daniel Vasta © mlive.com file /Daniel Vasta/mlive.com/TNS Michigan Coalition Against Racism in Sports & Media billboard on I-94 in Paw Paw, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. The billboard was posted as an educational public service announcement confronting racism in use of the term \"redskin\" with the Paw Paw High School football team name. Daniel Vasta

Eight schools call themselves the Indians (Athens, Chesaning, Hartford, Newberry, Saugatuck, Tecumseh, Tekonsha and White Cloud), with 15 Warriors (Bay City Western, Birmingham Brother Rice, Woodhaven, Detroit Westside Christian, Fife Lake, Grass Lake, Kinde North Huron, Lansing New Covenant Christian, Lansing Waverly, Lutheran Westland, Muskegon West Michigan Christian, Novi Christian Academy, Remus Chippewa Hills, Southfield A&T and Walled Lake Western).

“Some are very genteel, inappropriate terms … gingerly inappropriate,” Cloutier said.

Michigan High School Athletic Association executive director Mark Uyl hopes the current debate over Indian-themed nicknames in the NFL and Major League Baseball will continue to carry over into Michigan high schools.

“Our longstanding policy has been that this is a local issue,” Uyl said. “But our opinion is, given the events of the world right now, this is a wonderful time for schools to have that conversation locally to make sure their nickname and insignia is as inclusive as possible.

“What does happen at the professional level and even the collegiate level trickles down to high schools, and that includes nicknames. That national conversation about the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians could encourage local conversation about what is proper and what is offensive.”

Saranac superintendent Jason Smith is a fourth-generation Redskin, but he is open to the debate for a potential name change.

“There really hasn’t been any talk of changing up to this point,” Smith said. “We are obviously now just trying to keep our heads above water in developing a road map to return to school. The nickname debate is on the stove, but it’s on the back burner right now.

“In saying that, I know our board is aware of what’s happening with the Washington Redskins. When Dan Snyder, who is making millions of dollars off their shirts and logos, talks about changing the name, it’s going to work its way down. There are four of us in the state who are still Redskins, and I have to believe all four of us are taking a look at it.”

Uyl understands that Indian-themed nicknames have been around for generations and may not be easy to give up but says the time has come to have the conversation.

“High school sports presents a great opportunity to ask the questions of race and ethnicity and the chance for people to learn about what it’s like to walk in the shoes of other people,” he said.

It begins with conversations and debate.

“We need to do our due diligence, and that’s with conversations with the tribe, with Paw Paw, with the community, with Marshall ... which changed their nickname,” Smith said. “We need to make sure we do it in the right way. It’s not our intent to offend anybody.”

And Cloutier wants to help.

“My focus is education and history,” Cloutier said. “Every time a statue is being taken down, we’re losing an opportunity to teach. We’re destroying our history. What Columbus did was absolutely abhorrent. That needs to not be forgotten. We need to keep that statue and make sure everybody knows what the man was.

“Whether we like it or not, we can be part of the solution or a part of the problem. We can teach why a name is offensive or why there are parallels between your nickname and our culture and a reason to be proud of it.”

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