Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians pushes for Dowagiac Schools mascot change

NOW: Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians pushes for Dowagiac Schools mascot change

DOWAGIAC, Mich. -- The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians of Indiana and Michigan is pushing for Dowagiac Union School to change its mascot.

They say the mascot, the Chieftains, is a harmful stereotype.

But they also say the response from Dowagiac school leadership is just as alarming.

With the school property being on traditional homelands of the Potawatomi people, they hope a respectful agreement can be reached.

“It’s not a good fit for a school to use a race-based mascot any longer,” says Julie Dye, Vice Chair of the Pokagon Band’s Representations Outreach Board.

The school district has used the mascot for almost 100 years now.

“They’re not coming to the table and listening from our perspectives,” says Sam Morseau, Secretary of the Pokagon Band Tribal Council and Member of the Pokagon Band’s Representations Outreach Board.

The Tribal Council of the Pokagon Band says the school is not entertaining an open discussion on the use of the mascot, which the tribe says is harmful to students, primarily the large Native American population at Dowagiac schools.

According to the American Psychological Association, numerous studies show the damaging effects Native American mascots have on indigenous children.

“We had communications from some of our students and former students of things that occurred that have been humiliating and embarrassing and culture shaming really,” Dye explains.

The school board released a response to the initial calls for rescinding the mascot in August, saying the logo was never adopted with intent to dishonor the Native Americans, though the mascot did not change.

Neighbors feel like the name was meant to recognize the area's history.

“I was always historically under the impression that they were respecting the tribe, and the tribe was on board with it,” shares Sam Zebell, a resident and small business owner in Dowagiac. “But if they haven’t been communicating with them more recently, then I can see why there would be a need for an open dialogue.”

Zebell formerly taught at Hartford schools where, following encouragement from the Pokagon Band, the mascot changed from the Indians to the Huskies.

They both think a fair agreement can be reached with open dialogue.

“It seems like it has been a working relationship, if the communication has broken down then it's probably time to revisit that, Zebell says.

“I think if we set up a series of meetings where we are able to bring people together and discuss the impacts that it has, it would be beneficial to both sides,” says Morseau.

The Dowagiac School Board President who was sent the letter from the Pokagon Band did not have a response to share with ABC57 just yet.

Share this article: