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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa — the Meskwaki — is calling on 66 Iowa schools to retire their Native-themed mascots.
“We believe it appropriate to share with you Indian Country’s long-standing opposition to the continued use of Native ‘themed’ mascots,” a letter from the Meskwaki Nation reads.
Meskwaki Nation, the only federally recognized tribal nation in Iowa, is “against the use of Native American terms or images or symbols for sports or other marketing uses,” the Tuesday letter continues.
“ … The will of Indian Country is clear — Native ‘themed’ mascots and the dehumanizing stereotypes they perpetuate must go,” the letter states.
“We ask that you heed the voices of tribal leaders representing hundreds of Tribal Nations and the organizations that serve their citizens, not the voices of a few select individuals- when seeking to understand where Indian Country broadly stands on this issue.”
The letter is signed by Meskwaki Nation Chairwoman Judith Bender, Ponca Tribe of Nebraska Chairman Larry Wright, National Congress of American Indians CEO Dante Desiderio, and American Indian Council Executive Director Christine Campbell.
The letter calls on school leaders to begin a dialogue with the Meskwaki Nation and the other letter signers to learn about contemporary Tribal Nations.
“Know that we are committed to working with you to expand and strengthen the curriculum your schools teach future generations of Iowans about Tribal Nations and peoples,” the letter stated.
The Meskwaki Nation has voiced its opposition to Native mascots in the past, most recently to the Marion Independent School District, which dropped its Indian mascot earlier this year.
Nationally, 1,935 schools have a Native-themed mascot, with names such as Indians, Warriors, Braves, Chiefs and Redskins, according to the National Congress of American Indians.
In the last calendar year, around 50 U.S. schools, have retired Native mascots.
The 66 Iowa schools with Native names include the Waukon Indians, Wapello Indians, Spirit Lake Indians, Montezuma Braves, Keokuk Chiefs, Oskaloosa Indians, Mason City Mohawks and Indianola Indians.
Mason City received a letter from the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe on Friday, urging retirement of the Mohawk mascot, the Globe Gazette reported.
Indianola’s school board is continuing discussions about retiring its mascot.
Mark Stringer, executive director of ACLU of Iowa, said using Native-themed mascots is damaging and disrespectful.
“They perpetuate negative and cartoonish stereotypes, inappropriately represent sacred and religious traditions, and are especially offensive given the long history of oppression against Indigenous peoples,” Stringer said in a Friday statement.
“Some Iowa schools, like Marion, have already retired their mascot and we encourage all other Iowa schools to do the same,” he stated. “Retiring these mascots is the right and respectful thing to do. Retiring these mascots also ensures compliance with the purpose of anti-discrimination laws."
Chris Cuellar, communications director for the Iowa High School Athletic Association, said the organization respects and is sensitive to the concerns raised by the Meskwaki Nation.
“Many of our member school districts have had or are currently engaged in conversations with their communities about mascots that portray Native Americans,“ Cuellar said.
”We encourage these conversations to continue. By doing so, school districts and their communities can confidently provide safe and inclusive environments for student activities.“
Marion Independent officially changed its name from “Indians” to “Wolves” after the school board approved the name change in late May.
The initial vote to change the school’s mascot came after Superintendent Janelle Brouwer received a letter from Meskwaki Nation in September 2020, requesting a name change.
“Native American people or Indians should not be viewed as ‘mascots’ for the pleasure of branding sports teams, schools or any other organization,” the letter read.
In March, the name of a Linn County creek was changed from Squaw, a term used to disparage Native American women, to Wanatee Creek.
Linn County also renamed Squaw Creek Park, along Highway 100, to Wanatee Park last year, honoring Jean Adeline Morgan Wanatee, who was born on the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama County in 1910 and was the first woman elected to the Meskwaki Tribal Council.
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