MAPS nickname opposed; Tribal leader says name is a ‘racial slur’
By CHRISTIE MASTRIC
Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE — The issue of removing Marquette Senior High School’s Redmen nickname came up again during Monday’s Marquette Area Public Schools Board of Education meeting.
Through 2019-20, the MAPS school district had debated changing the nicknames of Redmen and Redettes, but no official action was taken. However, the MAPS board in 2020 voted to retire the Native American chief logo and formally adopt the letter “M” as its logo.
Strong opinions have been voiced on either side of the nickname issue.
On Monday, Leora Tadgerson, director of diversity, equity and inclusion with the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan and a member of the Wiikwemkoong First Nation, Ontario, read a letter on behalf of Austin Lowes, vice chairman of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, who has full chairman duties.
Lowes was unable to attend the meeting because of a scheduling conflict. However, he asked that the MAPS board remove the Redmen nickname.
“I am opposed to the term ‘Redmen’ being used as a school nickname for the Marquette Area Public Schools,” Lowes wrote. “The word ‘Redmen’ is a racial slur that was used to dehumanize Native American people.”
He called it a “throwback” to an era when, for instance, Native Americans couldn’t vote and youth were sent to boarding schools to face “unspeakable trauma.”
In fact, he noted that the words “Redmen” and “redskins” need to become relics and “tossed in the wastebasket of history.”
“Instead, it has been continued to be stubbornly used by schools under the guise of honoring Indians,” Lowes said. “Make no mistake. This word does not honor Native American people any more than slurs like ‘yellowskins,’ ‘blackskins’ and ‘brownskins’ would honor other minorities.
“On the contrary, words like that wouldn’t be tolerated, and neither should the word ‘redskins.'”
Lowes also wrote that stereotyping American Indians teaches all students that the stereotyping of minority groups is acceptable.
A resolution from the Michigan State Board of Education, he pointed out, indicates that it supports the elimination of American Indian “mascots, nicknames, logos, fight songs, insignias, antics and team descriptors” by all Michigan schools.
The issue has been divisive for decades.
In a previous Mining Journal article, then-MAPS Superintendent Bill Saunders said a review of the nickname — first conducted in the 1990s — had “polarizing results.”
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Chairman Chris Swartz wrote in a November 2019 newsletter about the removal of the mascot and nickname.
“I have always said, ‘Every Indian child should have the ability to receive a quality education (like) everyone else,'” Swartz wrote., “When there are these racism and mascot issues in the schools, the people tend to crawl into a little shell; we have all been through that.”
In 2020, MAPS conducted a public survey about discontinuing the nickname.
Out of the 21,000 surveys mailed to district registered voters, 4,799 votes came back, and 59% supported keeping the current nickname.
Board member Jennifer Ray commented on the issue during Monday’s meeting.
The nickname, she said, continues to harm all children, and from a mental health standpoint, people should actively listen and understand individuals’ backgrounds.
Although there may be some individuals who don’t agree with the removal of the name, others want it removed, said Ray, who advocated for a nickname change.
“It’s time,” Ray said. “It’s just time.”
MAPS Superintendent Zack Sedgwick said after the meeting that the issue is not slated to be on an upcoming board agenda.
Merit pay, stipends OK’d
The board unanimously approved merit pay of $145 for teachers rated “highly effective” and $72.50 for teachers rated “effective.”
It also unanimously approved $500 stipends for staff.
Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.