Tribe’s chief says SMN should consider mascot concerns

Lourdes Kalusha-Aguirre

By Meredith Chapple

Shawnee Mission North shouldn’t dismiss the concerns of Native American students who say the school’s mascot, the “Indians,” is offensive, the chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma said Wednesday afternoon.

The comments come as Lawrence High School’s Intertribal Club last week pushed for the SMN banner to be removed from outside the LHS gym. The banner displayed the SMN mascot, a Native American in headdress. It was replaced by a new banner on Wednesday as all the Sunflower League school banners were replaced as well.

All Sunflower League banners were replaced to ones without mascots on Wednesday, Feb. 22.

“I don’t think they should automatically dismiss it [concerns],” said Glenna Wallace, chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.

Her comments are significant because Shawnee Mission has cited the tribe as supportive of its use of the mascot. Erin Little, the Shawnee Mission School District director of communications, said the school embraces its Native American mascot.

“School mascots are symbols of strength and admiration— and a reflective [sic] of the first occupants of the land upon which our school district was built,” Little said in an email. “The Shawnee Mission area and school district was named after the Shawnee Nation tribe.

“In 1992, the Shawnee Mission School District communicated directly with the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and received written correspondence that the tribe was proud to lend its name and support to the education of America’s youth,” she continued. “They emphasized that the use of costumed youth as mascots was not offensive or degrading, but instead, a proud tradition that should continue. We are not planning to change the name of our school district, or high school mascots.”

As of Wednesday, the school district appeared to have not contacted the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma about their use of the mascot since that letter 25 years ago. Wallace said she has not had any contact with Shawnee Mission North since she became chief in 2006.

Wallace learned about the issue with the banner Tuesday evening.

The debate began last week when LHS senior Madison McKinney posted images and a video on  Facebook that gained thousands of views, including a video of the Shawnee Mission North student section doing a tomahawk chop. Wallace said she believes that doing this cheer is inappropriate and insensitive.

“I thought the tomahawk chop disappeared years ago,” Wallace said. “I think that somewhere, some discussion of that needs to occur… but the tomahawk chop is just simply in my opinion insensitive, [and] in my opinion is degrading.”

Wallace also said she saw a photo of the Shawnee Mission North mascot. She said that this mascot does not display any Shawnee tribe.

“That is not a Shawnee — whether it’s the Eastern Shawnee or it’s the Shawnee Tribe or whether it’s the Absentee Shawnee — we are all Woodland Indians,” Wallace said. “And that is not an image depicting of Woodland Indian. That is the image of the Plains Indians. The Plains Indians are honorable people, but I would hardly think it accurate or appropriate to have a Plains representation for a Woodlands tribe.”

Wallace said that if a school is going to use a Native American as a mascot, they should do so respectfully.

“If they [a school] are going to have an Indian as a mascot, make sure that every activity associated with that is done with respect and is appropriate,” she said. “And I can’t imagine if I came from a school where my mascot is a bulldog, and I put a picture of a chihuahua up, that somebody is not going to say something. They’re not going to say ‘Well a dog is a dog is a dog, or an animal is an animal is an animal.’ So somebody somewhere didn’t do some research or somebody somewhere didn’t address issues of respect, sensitivity, degradation.”

Wallace also said that the Shawnee Mission North school district shouldn’t automatically disregard the concerns of the Intertribal Club. She advises that students from both schools should meet together.

“I would talk to school administration of Shawnee Mission North,” Wallace said. “I would probably try to see if student body can talk to student body.”

Little, from the Shawnee Mission district, said that while the school didn’t plan to change its mascot, the district respected the decision of LHS to remove the banner.

“This was their property, and their home; and we respect their opinion,” she said in an email. “We were not upset when they removed the Shawnee Mission North banner, and do not anticipate any additional action with the Shawnee Mission School District.”

On Friday, McKinney had hopes that Intertribal Club members could explain to Shawnee Mission North why they believe the mascot is offensive.

“We do hope that over time we can educate them,” she said. “We can find a way for them to understand how their chants and their actions are disrespectful toward our culture. At the least we want to educate them and to help them understand where we are coming from as a people.”