Stilwell High School’s Indian mascot causes stir
By Christina Good Voice
STILWELL, Okla. – A high school in eastern Cherokee Nation unveiled its new Indian mascot on Jan. 12, bringing with it more than just school spirit as many alumni and area residents have voiced opposition to it.
Stilwell High School administration came under fire by CN citizens and employees after a front-page photo in the Jan. 13 issue of the Stilwell newspaper, the Stilwell Democrat Journal, showed the new Indian mascot at a pep assembly.
The photo showed the mascot with a large head, long black hair in braids and exaggerated American Indian facial features such as a scowl, large nose and bushy eyebrows. The mascot is dressed in a fake buckskin shirt and leggings.
Mary Alice Fletcher, Stilwell Public Schools superintendent, said she fielded calls from several people, most of whom were CN employees, complaining they were offended by the mascot. But she said the students, faculty and administration didn’t intend to offend anyone with the mascot.
“It was done strictly to create school spirit because they’re proud of their Indian heritage,” Fletcher said. “Primarily, it was something the kids got after and promoted. Even our Indian heritage club was part of (the) promotion of that and donated funds for that.”
She said more than 70 percent of Stilwell High School’s student population is Indian, and a majority of those are Cherokee. The school has always been known as the Indians, but it’s never had a mascot.
Stilwell students began implementing the mascot in September. They raised money and voted on what the mascot’s name should be, Fletcher said.
“They came up with the idea and started working on it last fall,” she said. “They all donated money, and different clubs in the school had fundraisers and came up with it and voted on it as a student body to name the mascot.”
Fletcher said a majority of the students voted to name the mascot Tommy Tomahawk.
CN citizen and Stilwell alumna Melanie Knight said she was disappointed the school would create a mascot that is a caricature and warped image of American Indians.
“It has been difficult to address long-term mascots that have become part of some schools’ history and legacy,” she said. “This is an opportunity to prevent that from happening. Tommy Tomahawk and his personification clearly says to me that Indians are a joke.”
Knight said she understands students worked hard to raise funds and commends their efforts, but thinks it’s up to the school’s leadership to guide the students’ industriousness and enthusiasm.
“It is my hope that they step in and do just that, even though it is late in the process,” she said. “To install Tommy Tomahawk as a permanent fixture at Stilwell High would be a travesty, and it is up to the board and administration to address it, even at this late juncture.”
Knight also said the school should have guided the students more in the mascot selection process.
“The school should have provided the students with some guidance, and it should have been, at a minimum, vetted with the school board, two of which are Cherokee citizens,” she said.
The social networking Web site Facebook quickly became an avenue for students, parents and alumni to express their opinions about the mascot. A group called “Tommy Tomahawk is Offensive” had 279 fans as of press time, while a counter group called “Tommy Tomahawk” that supports the mascot had 257 fans.
Stilwell’s school board has called a special meeting for Jan. 25 to discuss the issue and will vote on whether the school will use the mascot, Fletcher said. She added that the mascot is not being used and is “on hold.”
Reach Staff Writer Christina Good Voice at (918) 207-3825 or firstname.lastname@example.org
High School mascot Tommy Tomahawk (Photo
by Tommy Tomahawk Facebook Group)