School district ordered to drop nickname deemed racist by Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
The Associated Press reports in the Superior Telegram that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) has ordered Osseo-Fairchild School District (OFSD) to drop its Chieftains nickname and logo after a determination that it was race-based and promoted discrimination and harassment. Under recently enacted legislation, WDPI has the authority to order schools to drop their race-based nicknames and logos if they are deemed discriminatory. The department’s ruling could affect 34 other school districts in the state with similar Native American based names. Under the law, districts that refuse to drop names after being ordered to do so face $1,000 per-day fines.
OFSD has one year to stop using the Chieftains logo and nickname or face fines. The decision on whether to appeal the ruling will be the school board’s, according to district superintendent Edward Dombrowski. "For me the most important thing is what effect is this going to have on the kids in the community. . . . It really split the community. I’m really hoping this becomes an opportunity for us to pull together." The order authored by WDPI School Administration Consultant Paul Sherman noted that the district doesn’t have the permission of any federally recognized American Indian tribe to use the name or logo. The order determined that using it amounts to stereotyping, discrimination and student harassment in violation of state law.
Source: Superior Telegram, 7/27/10, By Scott Bauer (Associated Press)
[Editor's Note: The order issued by WDPI, which contains details about the history of the district's use of the "Chieftains" nickname and logo, appears at the first link below. In the order, the consultant found that the district was unable to produce clear and convincing evidence that the nickname and logo were not race-based. There was evidence, however, including social science research, suggesting that the symbols were race-based and use of such symbols is damaging to members of the ethnic group.
In 2005, the NCAA adopted a new position with respect to Native American team names and symbols. According to its web site: "The NCAA policy on Native American mascots does not require member institutions to change their names or mascots. The actual policy precludes member schools with Native American nicknames, mascots, or imagery from hosting NCAA championships. These schools are still eligible to participate in championships, but the policy restricts them from wearing uniforms or other paraphernalia that depict nicknames or images while competing in NCAA championship events. The NCAA only governs member universities and colleges." Additional information on the NCAA's policy is available at the second link below.
Some other states have acted to discourage the continued use of Native American names and/or symbols as nicknames or mascot, but without the enforcement teeth that the Wisconsin law has. For example, in 2007 the Forest Grove News-Times reported that a high school was hoping that the Oregon Department of Education (DOE) would reverse an advisory committee recommendation to eliminate mascots depicting Native Americans at all publicly funded Oregon schools in two years. As of February of this year, according to the Native American Times, the Oregon DOE had not issued a recommendation, and schools with Naive American mascots and images continue to use them. The article is available at the third link below. A summary of the article from the Forest Grove News-Times is available at the fourth link below to COSA members.
For a first-hand account of a North Carolina school district's review of its schools' use of American Indian symbols, American School Board Journal subscribers may follow the fifth link below. ]