Schools stand behind American Indian names

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Kayla Bunge
Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Big Foot and Fort Atkinson school officials say they will stand by the use of their Chiefs and Blackhawks team names even as the governor prepares to sign a bill to regulate school use of American Indian nicknames and mascots.

The local schools are among about three dozen in the state that could have their team names or logos challenged under the bill.

The bill, which passed through the Assembly in February and Senate in April, would allow residents to complain to the state schools superintendent if their school district uses a race-based team name, nickname, mascot or logo and they believe the name promotes stereotypes.

Gov. Jim Doyle has said he plans to sign the bill soon.

The measure sets up the possibility that local folks could challenge the Big Foot Chiefs and the Fort Atkinson Blackhawks—names the school has held for more than 50 years.

Big Foot officials said they would fight any challenges to their nickname, which honors Chief Big Foot, leader of the Potawatomi tribe, who lived along the banks of Geneva Lake until European settles came to the area.

“We’re not planning on changing,” said Sue Pruessing, school board president. “We believe we have compelling reasons why we should be allowed to have our mascot and name.”

Officials previously told the Gazette that the image of the chief is not the official logo of the high school.

The school since 1999 has used a red and black banner and flame logo for academic purposes and an interlocking “B” and “F” logo for athletic and extracurricular teams and groups.

Officials said their use of the Chiefs name is not mean-spirited and does not promote discrimination.

“We stand behind it,” said Mike Hinske, high school principal. “We believe in that. We believe in the way we use the chief and the way he is depicted.”

Fort Atkinson officials said they, too, would fight any challenges to their nickname, which pays tribute to Chief Black Hawk, leader of the Sauk tribe who established communities along the Rock River.

“Our intentions have always been honorable,” said Superintendent James Fitzpatrick. “The name … was a deliberate attempt to preserve the rich history of the area.”

Officials from both school districts have said they do not anticipate challenges from district residents. They have said they have not heard of anyone planning to complain about their school nicknames if the bill becomes law.

But Barb Munson, chairwoman of the Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she hopes schools change their names before they face a formal challenge.

“It is a matter of time before school districts will want to change because they’ll realize they’re … creating racial stereotypes,” she said. “I think what this legislation really does is it takes down barriers between racial groups.”

Munson said many times schools can address concerns by modifying their images while keeping their names. She said many images school use are unacceptable because they are of a Native American in profile wearing a headdress.

“That is stereotyping to an extreme,” she said. “Those are not ambiguous. They may be generalized, but they’re not ambiguous.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.

Last updated: 1:56 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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