Tales and Foot-dragging from the Dartmouth School Committee

Three Massachusetts school districts retired their Native American mascots last week.

But Dartmouth was not one of them.

On August 5th Barnstable School Committee member Kathy Bent described her town’s decision: “I think it is time to retire the Red Raider as our mascot” she said. “We can take our time coming up with a new mascot, but that certainly should not be a decision we make as a school committee, but one that the community makes.”

That same day Hanover Schools retired its “Indian.” Libby Corbo, a member of Hanover’s School Committee said, “My opinion as a white person as to whether the sacred symbol of Native American heritage is offensive or not frankly doesn’t matter,” said Corbo. “I think the days of the white majority telling minorities what is best for them or how they should feel… it needs to end today with our voice saying this is no longer acceptable in our community.”

Hanover’s decision had been informed by a virtual public meeting on July 29th at which Indigenous people, including a Hanover Middle School teacher, explained why their Indian mascot was so offensive.

Again on the same day, North Quincy announced a new mascot would replace “Yakoo,” a racist depiction of a Native American which North Quincy’s School Committee had retired the previous Monday. The team name, like Barnstable’s, is the “Red Raiders,” but no decision has been announced on a name change.

In June, while opponents of racist mascots were still gaining steam, Faries Gray, sagamore (war chief) of the Massachusett tribe, explained: “These mascots create such a negative environment for the indigenous [people], it is ridiculous that we even have to have a discussion about why this is a racist thing. That is not our culture. It is really disrespectful to us.”

Ridiculous though it may be, Dartmouth school board members would like this whole issue to just magically disappear. This time around they have decided to hand off their hot potato —apparently it’s not a human rights or moral issue — to a yet-to-be-named “diversity committee” that will consider the mascot and an anti-racism resolution being voted on by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. And report back. At some unspecified date in the future.

Last October 2019 the Dartmouth School Committee fended off demands to bring the issue of the mascot before a community hearing, promoting an account of how the present-day mascot had been designed by Native American students. In this tale, the logo the children designed is still used today. Also in this tale, Native Americans approve of how delicately Dartmouth White People have “honored” and “respected” their heritage..

Problem is, last November the Standard Times asked Bonnie Gifford, the school superintendent, if she had actually spoken with any Native Americans lately. Nope, was the answer. “We have never had any response from anyone from the tribes,” she told a reporter by email.

But Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, of the Aquinnah tribe, somehow managed to take questions from reporter Jennette Barnes of the Standard Times, noting that, although she helped redesign the Dartmouth “Indian” image as a teenager, years later she believes there should be a public discussion of its use.

The Standard Times also managed to ring up Chief George Spring Buffalo of the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation, who told the same reporter that the Dartmouth mascot issue should have been dealt with years ago. “It’s all about cultural respect, so children who go to your school don’t have to feel like they are cartoon characters when it comes to Halloween or Thanksgiving.”

With the Washington Redskins, Aunt Jemima, Land o’ Lakes, and Uncle Ben all scrapping their racist images, and legislation to ban school mascots gaining traction, it would seem to be a good time to reconsider Dartmouth’s racist mascot. But the Dartmouth Schools — which had plenty of time to plan, and plenty of cash to fund, a $1.8 million football stadium upgrade last Fall — simply decided to punt the issue to a committee for, ahem, “study.”

Their “diversity committee,” which will include two members of the School Committee, two faculty members, two students, two community members, and two administrators, will now consider both the mascot and a racism referendum. All members of the committee must be Dartmouth residents. And committee member John Nunes made a special point of mentioning that he didn’t want any members from New Bedford.

Ironically, the “Dartmouth only” rule will exclude the very student who designed one of the Dartmouth images — because she now lives on tribal lands outside Dartmouth. And with virtually no Native American students in any of the Dartmouth schools, this is one more pesky constituency the School Committee doesn’t have to listen to.

As one Dartmouth resident who was disappointed with the School Committee’s decision to block public comment last Fall put it succinctly: “Ah, the SouthCoast region of Massachusetts, where we take pride in our ignorance.”

Some of that ignorance is still to be found in the District’s curriculum. It is fortunate that diversity curriculum is on the way because at least one lesson plan on the DPS website is guaranteed to insult Native American children. The objective of “Rate the Colony” is to attract more European settlers to your 18th Century colony (many of which were operated with slaves). The exercise actually describes Indians as a potential danger to one’s health and the entire colonial enterprise. So much for honor and respect.

The account of how today’s “respectful” mascot came into existence, repeated on occasion by a couple of committee members, has never been adequately fact-checked. In this slippery tale, two children design a logo used to this very day and they continue to support its use, and a majority of local Native Americans concurs.

But we now know that the children have changed their views and most Massachusetts tribes are opposed to the mascot — thanks to a piece in the Standard Times. And a search on Dartmouth High yearbook covers debunks the rest of the tale by showing that the design the children created was actually scrapped — only to be replaced with one that Dartmouth College abandoned in 1974 because so many people thought it was racist.

In 1970 the Dartmouth Schools “Indian” was a cartoon character that looked suspiciously like it had been lifted from Quincy’s now-retired “Yakoo.”

By 1975 the Dartmouth Public Schools were using a newer Indian image with a Western headdress. In 1977 the Pathfinder Indian was designed by Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, now Chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah, and her brother while they were students at Dartmouth High School. This may be the only true part of the tale.

The Pathfinder appeared on yearbooks until at least 1988 (and possibly longer) but that image bears no resemblance to the one used today. At some point, the Dartmouth Schools replaced the Maltais Pathfinder with almost exactly the same image rejected by Dartmouth College in 1974. College on the left, High School on the right:

This Dartmouth College version is the one that now brings in royalties for the Dartmouth Schools — royalties not shared with any tribe.

Forum on Statewide legislation and the Dartmouth Mascot

Please join us on Tuesday. We have invited the School Committee and Superintendent to join us.

Forum on Statewide legislation and the Dartmouth Mascot

Please join the NAACP New Bedford Branch, local organizations, and community members on Tuesday, July 28, 2020 at 7:00pm via Zoom meeting platform for a discussion and forum on MA Statewide Legislation and the Dartmouth H.S. Indian mascot with the New Bedford Immigrant Support Network and guest Jean-Luc Pierite, President, Board of Directors, North American Indian Center of Boston.

Zoom information:
https://umassd.zoom.us/j/93429277599

Meeting ID: 934 2927 7599
(646)876-9923 Access: 934 2927 7599

Massachusetts House: nah, Black Lives don’t matter all that much

The Massachusetts House just passed their own police accountabily bill — long on police concessions and short on accountability. Despite language that says Qualified Immunity will be “studied,” everybody knows what that means. This is House Speaker Bob DeLeo’s way of strangling progressive legislation — even reforms that a majority of the public supports. As a lobbyist once said of the Massachusetts Legislature, “Don’t confuse what goes on in this building with democracy.”

Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, released the following statement on the House bill:

“For months, people across the country and the state have been marching in the streets to demand systemic change. Unfortunately, this bill does not reflect the fierce urgency that deadly police violence against Black people demands. Instead, it reflects the depth of entrenched opposition to necessary police reform. Police unions and officers used the weapon of fear to maintain the status quo and undermine even very moderate reforms.

“Ultimately, this piece of legislation misses the mark, because it will not help victims of violence hold police accountable. Let’s be clear: Massachusetts is not immune to police misconduct. In order to make any laws about excessive use of force or other police abuses meaningful, Massachusetts must reform our civil rights laws – including by ending qualified immunity, which denies victims their day in court. When the final bill is negotiated, it should empower victims of police violence to seek justice for the harms they have suffered and to hold abusive officers directly accountable.”

Progressive Mass. has published a guide, Here’s How Your State Rep Voted on Police Reform, including how House members voted on the Senate version, S.2820. Bristol County “Democrats” Carole Fiola, Jim Hawkins, Chris Markey, Alan Silvia, and Paul Schmid all voted with Republicans against the Senate version.

When it comes to supporting wars and the police state, we can usually count on the media to tell us a plastic fork is silver cutlery. Several media outlets have described the House bill as “sweeping” when in fact it sacrificed critical police accountability measures to police union lobbying.

Let’s be honest. neither political party wants police reform — even in supposed Liberal bastions like Massachusetts. What just happened in the Commonwealth has played out all over the nation. In Missouri, for example, when Kansas City Mayor David Alvey assembled his Task Force on Community and Police Relations, he invited Police Chief Michael York and Wyandotte County Sheriff Don Ash — but snubbed Kansas City’s reform District Attorney Mark Dupree, a Black man, because he wasn’t sufficiently “objective.”

Finally, no discussion of police accountability would be complete without the local press quoting a man who is neither a police officer nor has ever been held accountable to the Massachusetts legislature.