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Redmen/Redette debate unresolved

Letters read to school board

Jacob Fether

MARQUETTE — People who want a resolution to the long-simmering Redmen/Redette debate will have to wait a little longer.

Earlier this year, the Marquette Area Public Schools Board of Education voted to retire the Native American chief logo and formally adopt the letter M as its logo, although the contentious issue of the Redmen/Redette nicknames still is undecided.

No decision was made at Monday’s board meeting, but two letters from the community on the Redmen/Redette issue were read.

One of those letters was from Jake Fether, an art teacher at Marquette Senior High School.

“There is literally no better time to bring our nickname, mascot, rebranding to a vote,” wrote Fether, who mentioned events such as the Black Lives Matter protests, retiring the Aunt Jemima brand and the removal of Confederate flags as examples.

“We have all the ingredients needed to make a clean change to a new nickname,” Fether said.

The school year can be “ushered in with a new brand,” he said.

Although the logo was retired, Fether believes the nicknames should be changed as well.

“Ideas change the world only when they change their behavior,” Fether said. “The last school year saw students in red face, making rogue Indian head T-shirts and even after the official departure from the imagery, we saw groups of students wearing these shirts in the senior parade.

“This problem will not be gone until we rebrand.”

Fether said he doesn’t believe a face-to-face public meeting is required to make the change.

“Political bodies are doing important business over Zoom, and you can too,” Fether said. “You have done your due diligence along with public input, along with a research committee report and community service, over the last school year, and nothing needs to be said or done before you take your responsibility to act on this.”

Fether recommended the board pass a resolution he crafted and suggested “Marquette Pride” as the new nickname and logo.

Another letter, submitted from Daniel Rutz of Marquette, was read.

Rutz said he participated in a conversation with school officials and the community regarding the new mascot, logos and nicknames on Feb. 5.

“This attempt at a compromise was changing the school logo while keeping the current nickname,” Rutz said. “Let me unequivocally say that this is not a compromise. I listened with interest and empathy. I do believe that there will be a sense of loss and feelings of anger for part of our community and want to understand that.

“However, empathy is not endorsement, and I’m frustrated to hear that my listening to others as an adult has been construed as support for this proposal.”

The main tenet of the proposal, he noted, is that the community can change the use and meaning of the word “Redmen.”

But that is not how language works, he said.

“We here in Marquette do not get to decide what that word means when it is used across the centuries and across our country,” Rutz said. “It is a racist term and as long as it in use, there will be people who are hurt by it.”

He also noted the proposal does not offer any compromise for what he called the “sexist separation” of Redmen and Redettes.

“The only way to move on is to change the nickname,” Rutz said. “Short term, it will be fraught with adversity, but is the only path for our school community to come together long term.”

Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Rutz stressed that racial justice still must be addressed wherever it is found and recommended the board bring the issue to a vote.

The logo presented as part of the proposal depicts a stylized Crusade knight, said Rutz, who called the Crusades an “aggressive religious war.”

Rutz said his favorite option was the “Redhawks,” which represents physical athletic skill and intelligence.

Trustee Keith Glendon wanted the issue discussed at Monday’s board meeting, but his motion failed for lack of support.

He expressed disappointment at the issue not being brought up on Monday after the board had gone through “months and months” of data.

“To me, it represents another example of a lot of brokenness and lot of our systems right now,” Glendon said of the issue.

Trustee Glenn Sarka said the issue should be decided in person considering how it has affected the community.

“It deserves that level of engagement,” Sarka said.

MAPS Superintendent Bill Saunders said in an email that he has does not know if or when the nickname debate will appear on a MAPS Board of Education agenda.

“Sounds as if it is highly unlikely until we get back to public meetings at the earliest,” Saunders said.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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