Union Public Schools to again consider changing Redskins mascot

BY KELSY SCHLOTTHAUER
Tulsa World
07/07/2020 11:30 AM
Reprinted with permission
Main Cherokee Phoenix
A large sign containing the 'Redskins' emblem greets the public as they enter the Union High School football stadium on South Mingo Road. TULSA WORLD FILE
TULSA – The Union school board could soon reevaluate the district’s mascot, the Redskins, the school district’s administration announced on July 6.

“We have been having conversations internally for quite some time about the possibility of making a change,” Superintendent Kirt Hartzler said in a news release. “Many, both inside and outside our community, have had conflicting emotions over the years regarding Union’s mascot, and we strongly believe that now is the time to take up this issue once again.”

The time is one of race discussion and protest across the nation, which influenced Hartzler’s decision to review the topic anew, Union spokesman Chris Payne said.

The National Football League’s Washington Redskins announced a similar motivation in early July after the race debate renewed opposition to the name and prompted sponsors to speak up.
Although the NFL team’s announcement came days before Union’s, Payne said it didn’t hold sway in Hartzler’s decision.

“We’ve been looking at this the last six to nine months,” he said.

The mascot has been a source of contention within the district at different times for at least two decades.

In 2003, more than 100 people attended a Union school board meeting at which members voted unanimously to continue as the Redskins. Most attendees approved of the decision, claiming the term emulated a strong, positive figure.

But members of various Native American and civil rights groups said it was a racial slur and expressed great disappointment in the board’s decision.

The topic was broached again 10 years later, after then-NBC announcer Bob Costas condemned the mascot during the Washington Redskins’ nationally televised NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys, calling it an “insult” and “slur” no matter its present-day intent.

The meaning of the term is disputed, but advocates for change say it is historically linked to genocide, with “Redskin” describing the scalp of a slain American Indian sold for bounty.

The Union board stuck with its decision then with less fanfare, with school officials arguing that the mascot often comes under scrutiny nationally but not within the school district.

The board was slated to meet at 7 p.m. on July 13 for its next regularly scheduled meeting at the Union Education Service Center, 8506 E. 61st St. Hartzler said he’ll recommend that the board form a committee to study the mascot issue and make a recommendation to the board.

Payne said that in Union’s most recent survey, 4.5% of its nearly 16,000 students identified as American Indian or Alaska Native.

Despite the national debate that rages on, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said discussions reconsidering the use of depictions of Native Americans “need to initially take place at the local level,” and he said they have his “full support.”

“It’s simply wrong to use Native American depictions across sports, especially ‘Redskins,’ which is derogatory and offensive to Native people,” Hoskin said in a statement.

“I applaud those teams and schools, like Union public school officials, who are taking action to consider changing their team names and mascots. Dialogue on cultural appropriateness of Native Americans in this country is long overdue, and we hope more schools and team organizations take note of Union’s leadership and begin their own internal discussions.”

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is also “a willing and eager participant in these meaningful conversations” with Union, Principal Chief David Hill said in a statement to the Tulsa World.

“It has been addressed before, and it’s been a point of contention at various times through the last several years,” Hill said. “But what we do now is what’s important, and it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

– REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE TULSA WORLD

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