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Indigenous activists call on Texas schools to forfeit Port Neches-Groves football games

Chron logo Chron 9/8/2022 Meagan Ellsworth, Staff writer

Indigenous leaders are now calling on Texas schools to forfeit games in protest against the Port Neches-Groves High School mascot.

The Coalition Against Native Mascots Texas on Wednesday announced formal letters were sent by the South Texas Chapter Indigenous Peoples Movement to each of the schools scheduled to play the high school this football season.

The coalition said the invite asks the schools to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people as part of its “Forfeit Against Racism” campaign.  It described Port Neches-Groves' "Indian" mascot as “racist” and claimed it perpetuates “harmful negative stereotypes.”

The coalition claims the district is “steadfastly refusing to change and allowing its community to issue violent threats.”

“There is not a world where PN-G can keep their mascot as an Indian and be respectful,” South Texas Chapter of Indigenous Peoples Movement member Stephanie Silvas told The Enterprise. “It is racist. There is no way around it. It is racist. 100%. And we will not stand for racist mascots under any circumstance.”

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None of the school districts notified were able to confirm that they have received the invitation by press time.

The list of schools included Beaumont United High School, West Orange Stark High School, Marshal High School, Texas City High School, Willowridge High School, Dayton High School, Santa Fe High School, Nederland High School and Galena Park High School.

West Orange Stark Mustang officials declined to comment and said they were not aware of the invite to forfeit the game. Public information representatives from at least four of the other involved school districts said they were also unaware of the invitation.

The Beaumont Independent School District said it has not received and is not aware of the invite. The Beaumont United High School Timberwolves played its scheduled football against Port Neches-Groves' football team last week.

Travis Young with the Dayton Independent School District did provide a statement regarding the Dayton High School Broncos. But the sentiment was similar to the other districts.

RELATED: Community protests tribal-themed mascot

“Dayton ISD has not received any information about forfeiting a game against Port Neches-Groves,” Young said. “The Dayton Broncos intend to play all scheduled games for the 2022 football school year.”

Silvas told The Enterprise that the invites were sent by email to addresses listed for coaches and school officials listed on school websites, including after some schools declined to provide contact information.

Silvas believes that Port Neches-Groves' “culturally-appropriated” traditions are perpetuating the genocide and racism that Indigenous people continue to endure.

To end this, she said everyone needs to demand change. Silence and inaction from districts that appear to play the district nearly every season would be continuing to condone hate and racism, Silvas said.

“Football is the center of Texas schools, and I would just hope that they would use their platforms instead of just standing by and letting things like this happen,” Silvas said.

If they choose to participate, Silvas said the districts will be sending a statement on their morals.

RELATED: Cherokee Nation Chief responds to local school's Disney performance

“I think for those who decide not to forfeit, I think they also need to remember that is going to be kind of their voice — it is what they are saying to the public by not saying anything basically," Silvas said.

This is not the first time that the high school has found itself in the spotlight over concerns about its mascot and traditions.

Port Neches-Groves was recognized by the Cherokee Nation in 1979 as “Ambassadors of Good Will." However, in July 2020, Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., revoked the certificate and made clear the Nation did not support the high school's mascot.

Since then, the continued use of the district’s mascot and traditions have gained national attention and several calls for change, including from protests after a student organization performed at Disney World last March.

“Port Neches-Groves High School drill team took its racist symbolism to a Disney theme park, proudly wearing mockeries of ceremonial headdresses and inspiring chants of "Scalp 'em, Indians, Scalp 'em!" the coalition said in the release. “After videos of the school’s display at Disney went viral, both Disney and the school received heat from Indigenous activists nationwide. While Disney quickly released a statement of apology and accountability, the Port Neches-Groves school community rallied to defend its 'tradition,' even going so far as to issue online threats to activists planning to attend a school board meeting.”

RELATED: OPINION: Disney reaction to PN-G’s mascot shows need for change

Port Neches-Groves ISD Superintendent Mike Gonzales was not immediately available for comment Wednesday. He said in a statement in March that the district is aware of the concern regarding the school's Disney performance.

"We are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in our school district," the statement previously said. "Our district is nearing 100 years old, and our Board of Trustees is committed to always making the best decisions for our students, staff and the communities of Port Neches and Groves."

To date, the release said no change has been made to the high school's mascot or traditions.

While Port Neches-Groves is not the only team to have an "Indian" mascot, Silvas said it has been the coalition’s focus for a number of years, in part because it had more local members within the school district who decided to come together and take a stand.

“I think also why PN-G and not the other school mascot — yet — is because they have gone very public, not only like this past year with the Disney World thing, but their so called ‘traditions’ crossed more of the line than just the mascot,” Silvas said noting the school's fight song, which includes a "Scalp 'em" chant. “I think they have taken it to a different and a higher level than the other school.”

RELATED: Read the Cherokee Nation chief's letter to PN-G school officials

Silvas said members are currently working with the Code of People Law to create a new bill to implement change on both the state and national level for schools across the region.

“We are hoping that because of when we make this change in PN-G, that it will make it easier to make the changes throughout the entire state of Texas,” Silvas said. "We know there are several schools throughout the state of Texas and our main goal is to make this change throughout the entire state and the entire nation next.”

Ideally, Silvas said, Port Neches-Groves would respond to this action and begin to make changes to its iconography.

“We understand that to change a school mascot can’t happen in a year, but to pull back the ‘traditions’ that they are holding on to that are racist, that are culturally appropriated, those can be changed, to go ahead and make the statement that this mascot will not stand by next year,” Silvas said. “That can be made. We just want to see change happening. That would be the appropriate response.”


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