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April 20, 2001
Huntley, IL: Shame in the Name of "Team
by Michael R. Potter
Huntley should be proud of itself.
The businesses of Huntley should be proud to call it home.
All of the new residents of Huntley and those considering a move there should be proud of their community.
The Huntley School Board should be proud too…
Yes, on April 19, 2001, the Huntley School Board voted by a margin of 4 to 3 to keep the Huntley school “mascot” name of “Redskins”. Regardless of how the 3 voted, the final verdict – the verdict that represents the attitudes of the school board and the city of Huntley – is that the Huntley School District will keep its “mascot”.
Maybe that “pride” I’m speaking of should be shame.
I thought the members of a school board were supposed to be educated individuals. Apparently I was wrong. An educated person would take an hour to research why the name “Redskin” is offensive before taking action. Wasn’t that the reason this argument was brought before the school board yet again? Isn’t the basis of a college education learning to research and study? To seek answers? Hmm, I wonder how the members of the Huntley School Board spent their college education?
Here is what less than 60 seconds of my own research found:
The Merriam-Webster definition of redskin.
Main Entry: red·skin
“Usually offensive”. How interesting. Do I have to look up and define what “usually” means? Imagine how much more information could be found with more than 60 seconds worth of research.
Before getting to the argument, let’s take a moment to look at some other potential “mascots” for Huntley High School:
“The Huntley Blackskins”, “The Huntley Wetbacks”, “The Huntley Towelheads”, “The Huntley Camel Jockeys”, “The Huntley Slaves”, “The Huntley Queers”, “The Huntley Slanteyes” or how about “The Huntley WASPs”?
My question to the Huntley School Board is “Are those ‘mascots’ listed above offensive?” If so, how do they merit being any more or less offensive than “Redskin”? These are even some of the “mild” examples of bigotry and racism in our society. Imagine how much more offensive the “real” slurs would be (slurs I dare not utter) when used as a mascot. Now imagine how offensive Native Americans find the Huntley “mascot” name – especially when one considers the origins of the word redskin.
The argument is made that Huntley High School holds the “Redskins” mascot in high regard and they respect the Native American. I’m sorry, but the person who believes that must also hold the above suggested nicknames in high regard and, as a result of using them, show respect for the races and ethnicity of the people represented by those names. Yes, I said people. Human beings. Apparently the Huntley School Board has forgotten that the term redskin refers to the skin of a human being. Skin that was hacked from the bodies of dead men, women and children when early colonials placed bounties on Native Americans and trappers used to sell their scalps and skins as proof of their kill. These Natives were slaughtered to clear the path for traders to make more profit off of the land, not to respect and give back to the land as the Native Americans did.
I don’t believe the Huntley School District set out to offend Native Americans when they named the team. As point of fact, the definition of the term “Redskin” has changed quite substantially since the 1940’s. So past discretions can be forgiven and chalked up to ignorance or “the times”. My thinking is that the students, the school board and all of the people who put up those stenciled signs asking the town to keep the mascot consider their Native American in headdress logo the embodiment of the name “Redskin” and they don’t want to change it. I’m not convinced that anyone wants to necessarily change the logo, just the derogatory term used to describe it. Had anyone considered slightly less offensive terms such as “Warriors”? I know there are still some groups who would have a problem with this name as well, but at least it is not as hateful and hurtful as “Redskin” is. In fact, though Warrior is often associated with warfare, some Native Americans feel the word has a “spiritual meaning” that has more to do with being a provider for people, through hunting and by doing good deeds for others.
One of the proposals of the Huntley School Board is that they offer a Native American Studies course as compensation for retaining the name. At what point, exactly, is that course going to teach the derivation of the word redskin? Would anyone care to wager that it won’t? Based on Huntley’s understanding of Native Americans, I expect the course to cover the construction of “teepees”, how all “Indians” wore headdresses and did nothing but dance around dead buffalos at night waving their spears – Oh! I’m sorry … I just ruined the surprise by giving away the syllabus.
Lastly, there is the argument that the NFL team the “Washington Redskins” still uses this name. Is this offensive to Native Americans? Yes, of course it is, and it should be changed, but why let an organization which practices racism, ageism, idolatry and greed dictate the course of a small town like Huntley? The fact that the Washington Redskins continue to use this name does not change the underlying nature of the word “Redskin”.
My daughter is of Native American descent. One day soon my daughter is going to attend Huntley schools. How am I going to explain why her school – an institution of learning – is 40+ years behind the times in terms of dealing with people of other races and ethnicity? How can I explain that her mother and I chose to live in this town because of its charm and small size but not because of the underlying stream of hate filled rhetoric which flows beneath the community and its schools? How can I justify telling her that she’s getting a good education when being told by the school to cast aside the heritage we are teaching her to respect by adopting the racist attitudes of the Huntley School District when cheering for her team? Can she ever stomach yelling the phrase “Go Redskins!” without knowing deep down inside she is slurring her own lineage? How will she feel about having the epithet “Redskins” emblazoned across her chest if she chooses to try out for a team sport? How will other “non-whites” feel about Huntley condoning the use of a term they know causes grief for members of a specific race? She and other children will have these questions. As a parent who already struggles with the everyday trials and tribulations of my daughter’s young life and the long life she has yet to lead, I want to know how I am going to explain, in the 21st Century, why people still behave and act the way the Huntley School Board did on the night of April 19, 2001.
I realize that this editorial of mine is a purely reactionary response. I read and heard the statements presented by both sides of the argument to the Huntley School Board before the vote took place. I didn’t feel any additional input was needed by me. It is not, after all, up to the “white man” to decide what is offensive to one group or another. It is up to that group. I trusted the Huntley School Board to react and vote according to what’s right. Instead they reacted without consideration to the feelings of Native Americans in Huntley, in Illinois and throughout North America.
Worst of all, they reacted without considering the feelings of my daughter, a future student, who they as the school board were put in place to protect.
What's In a Name
Got more fish to fry, more important issues to settle
Redskin, redskin ... we be might, mighty proud that we be redskin.
Sacred burial place of a noble people
Scalped them, killed them, and buried them alive.
Politically correct, liberal bastards would destroy
But what of the pain, the guilt, the sorrow caused
Thanks for listening!
Michael R. Potter