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Despite Pushback, WI Schools Will Still Allow Native American Mascots

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The debate over the use of American Indian mascots still is playing out in professional sports, and at the high-school level as well. (Fibonacci Blue/Flickr)
The debate over the use of American Indian mascots still is playing out in professional sports, and at the high-school level as well. (Fibonacci Blue/Flickr)
January 28, 2020

MADISON, Wis. -- In a decision that angered activists, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards recently declined to endorse a proposal that called on high schools to stop using Native American mascots. One expert said continued use could be harmful to students.

Nearly 30 Wisconsin high schools still have a mascot that includes American Indian names and imagery. And recently, nearly 20 schools got behind a resolution to retire such mascots altogether. But the school board association rejected that proposal at its annual convention.

Brian Smedley is chief of psychology in the public interest at the American Psychological Association, which has weighed in on the topic. He said such caricatures can cause emotional harm, not only to Native American students, but to all students.

"The use of symbols or imagery in mascots teaches non-Indian kids that it's OK to portray a population, such as American Indians, in ways that are not accurate or true to their history," Smedley said.

The board's decision would have been non-binding, but an approval could have given activists a stronger message when pushing for a change in state law. Board members who voted against the resolution said it should be up to local school boards, some of which have voted on their own to drop names deemed offensive.

Smedley said his group has been calling for these bans for 15 years now. He said while there has been progress in getting universities and high schools to take action, it's frustrating to still see these symbols being used.

"This is not merely about the freedom for these schools to choose mascots that may reflect their own traditions, but we need to be cognizant of the literature and the research," he said.

While the effort failed in Wisconsin, supporters say they're hopeful the attention will convince more schools that still use Native American mascots to drop them.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI