MUKWONAGO, Wis. – The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has given the Mukwonago school district an Oct. 8 deadline to change the American Indian nickname and logo for its athletic teams.
The Mukwonago school board recently voted 8-1 to refuse the department’s order.
Good for the school board. It appears to be representing the views of a large majority of local residents, including Native Americans. The media reports we’ve read offer no evidence that Indians living in the Mukwonago area have any objection to the historic nickname, and that should be the bottom line.
The DPI is acting on a state law that allows state officials to force schools to drop race-based nicknames, logos and mascots if someone complains and the tribe that the nickname is borrowed from has not consented.
The order for Mukwonago to change its nickname to something other than “Indians” came in October, 2010.
Two parents challenged the decision in Waukesha County Circuit Court a few years ago and won a temporary victory. But an appeals court overturned that decision in January and the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently decided against hearing an appeal.
That prompted the DPI to send a letter to the district in June, demanding that its original order be honored by Oct. 8. According to the law, the school district can be fined anywhere between $100 and $1,000 every day it defies the order.
“The Department reminds the district of its obligations … to take steps reasonably calculated to create a school environment free of race-based harassment or discrimination,” the DPI wrote to the school.
We’ve seen no news reports suggesting that there has been any “race-based harassment or discrimination” in the district due to the continued use of the “Indians” nickname.
School officials argue that the district has used the nickname for more than 100 years, making it a source of tradition and pride for all local residents from all racial backgrounds. They say they have gone out of their way to treat local American Indian history with respect, and require incoming freshman to take a course on the subject.
Samuel Hall, the district’s attorney, argued that a change in nicknames would cost Mukwonago schools about $100,000, a cost that would include necessary alterations to athletic uniforms, diplomas, banners, academic medals and other materials.
“The use of the Indians nickname and associated logo have been and continue to be a source of pride related to the local history of the Mukwonago area,” Hall was quoted as saying. “Further, the district believes that decisions regarding the use of nicknames and logos are best left to local elected officials who better understand local history.”
Nobody has polled local Native Americans
Some Native American leaders have sided with the state.
“We’re dealing with a civil rights issue,” Barbara Munson, chair of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force was quoted as saying. “This choice by the school board serves no good moral purpose.”
But we believe the feelings of Native Americans living in the Mukwonago area should be a very significant factor. And as far as we can tell, nobody has bothered to poll them to gather their thoughts on the matter.
It seems like a poll wouldn’t be necessary, anyway. If there was a great deal of outrage on the part of local Native Americans, it would be obvious by now. There would have been protests at school board meetings and athletic events. We’ve heard of nothing of that sort taking place.
The original complaint against the nickname was filed by a single Native American living in the area. That’s hardly a popular mandate to change a 100-plus year tradition.
With no information available regarding local Indian sentiment, perhaps the best we can do is point to a recent editorial in the Marquette Warrior, which offered some enlightening information.
The newspaper alluded to the results of a 2002 Sports Illustrated poll which revealed that 81 percent of Native American respondents did not want colleges and high schools to be forced to change their nicknames for politically correct purposes. Eighty-three percent of those respondents said the same about professional sports teams.
Another poll, taken by the Annenberg School in 2003 and 2004, found that 90 percent of Native American respondents were not offended by the nickname “Redskins,” which is used by the professional football team in Washington D.C. and is generally considered to be the most racially controversial nickname in use.
There’s no doubt that the nickname “Indians” has been the source of pride in Mukwonago for many years. Generations of young athletes have worked hard to bring glory to their school and community while proudly competing as “Indians.” This nickname was not adopted out of disrespect, and has not been treated with disrespect over its many years of use in Mukwonago.
If the politically-correct bureaucrats at DPI really wanted to get to the heart of the issue, they would travel to Mukwonago, find the local Native Americans and gather their input. It appears that no such effort has been made.
Without documentation, there is no reason to believe that a majority of Native Americans in the area object to the nickname. And if they don’t object, there’s no reason for the state to be sticking its nose in the district’s business – period.