Petition to change Algonquin’s name & get rid of Tomahawks “mascot”

by beth on July 1, 2020

Post image for Petition to change Algonquin’s name & get rid of Tomahawks “mascot”

Above: Algonquin Regional’s Athletic logo is the Tomahawk. Petitioners objecting to cultural appropriation, and racist sterotypes are asking the school to ditch both the symbol and the school’s name. (image from ARHS Athletic’s twitter profile)

This month, over 2,000 petitioners have asked Algonquin Regional High School to get rid of the first word in its name and to drop its mascot. An alumnus with Algonquin roots publicly objected to “erasure” and conflating the school name with other issues around the mascot and racist behavior.

The high school and officials have yet to issue a direct public response to the petition. But, the combined Northborough-Southborough Public School district has responded to more general calls to action dealing with racism. As part of the response, the district will form an “Equity Task Force”.

Initially, I tried to cover this all of in one post, but there was too much to share. So, this story will focus on the petition. (Look for another post, soon, on the district’s overall response to requests to address racism.)

A petition organized by group calling itself “Students for Justice” claims the high school’s name was “stolen” from the Algonquin people. Calling for a change to the school name and mascot, the petition states:

The reconsideration of Algonquin Regional High School’s name has been a long time coming. . .

The Algonquin name in conjunction with the Tomahawk mascot – which is an ax-like weapon – perpetuate racist stereotypes, classifying Natives as violent and barbaric. Since Algonquin Regional High School’s conception in 1959, racist attire, chants and behavior have been commonplace – disguised as school pride and excused as an attempt to honor Native people. This racism is unacceptable and must change immediately. . .

Massachusetts high schools like Hanover High School are also currently pushing for their racist mascot – the Indian – to change. Now is not the time to sit idly by and be complicit. School tradition should not take precedence over justice.

A school that continues to employ Native symbols and names creates an environment where students think appropriation is acceptable and encouraged, which perpetuates racism. Please sign your name on this petition if you believe the Northborough-Southborough School District must make these changes now.

The Change.org petition has been signed by over 2,150 people as of this morning. One name, not likely to be found is Algonquin’s 1974 valedictorian Mary Rice-DeFosse. The Bates professor whose teachings include Africana and Americana Studies, publicly objected to changing the school’s name. She told Northborough Southborough Regional School Committee members that it would be an act of “erasure”, making “something that should be visible, invisible.”

Rice-DeFosse describes herself as someone with “white skin privilege” who has Native American heritage through the Narragansett, an Algonquin tribe.

The alumnus opined that the “well intentioned” and “idealistic” petitioners were conflating the name of the school with issues related to behavior at sports games. She said what bothered her the most was references to Native Americans as “them”. She followed that Native Americans don’t all live on reservations, they are part of the mainstream culture:

Petitioners seem to “other” native americans. They’re not “us”, they’re “them”. I’m here, we exist. In fact, I can name about 4-5 people from my time at Algonquin that had Native American heritage and some of them stayed in the area. They had children that went to Algonquin and they’re in the local schools

The professor spoke during Audience Sharing at the June 17th committee meeting. She said had reached out to the committee, dismayed by what she was seeing in Facebook posts. 

She told members that the Algonquin name isn’t something that she thinks can be trademarked. She explained that Native Americans used names to tell stories about places. To her it tells the story that long before colonists arrived were Northborough and Southborough now sit, Native Americans spoke the Algonquin language. Referring to it as a teachable moment, Rice-DeFosse said she hoped that the committee would “find a path that threads a needle”. She encouraged adding course content that deals with the rich heritage of the area.

Because the item wasn’t on the meeting agenda, Committee Chair Cathy Kea said that members couldn’t get into it. But she told Rice-DeFosse that she respected what she had to say. Echoing the “teachable” sentiment, Shea noted that there were plans to sit down with petitioners to discuss the issues.

No other members of the public spoke at the June 17th meeting. And no one raised the name or mascot change issue as part of Audience Sharing at the June 24th combined school committees meeting.

On June 23rd, the petition organizers added a template for letters that the public could use to email school administrators. While the petition itself remained the same and an instructions referenced the school name change, the template made no reference to changing the school’s name. Instead it focused on eliminating the mascot name and racism around use of the Tomahawks.

Last week, Wicked Local’s coverage of the petition included a movement in Millis to drop their Mohawk mascot. A later story by the Telegram included a petition to get rid of Nashoba’s Chieftains mascot. Both stories also follow up on past, proposed legislation to deal with the issue.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mom July 1, 2020 at 12:36 PM

I understand the elimination of the tomahawk symbol.
To name a school or other public building is a way to pledge honor. We are honoring the Algonquin people by keeping their name alive. How many of us would even know the word “Algonquin” if it weren’t for the high school bearing this name? Likewise for the very name of our state, Massachusetts.
I feel that turning the current Algonquin name into a teaching moment is a wonderful thing to do. We really should know more about the people who were here before us, not hide it away.

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2 Tim Martel July 1, 2020 at 1:23 PM

To state that naming the school “Algonquin” is racist is a tragic misstep. There is nothing wrong with honoring a name. In fact, I’d argue the opposite – that to deliberately erase it from history is offensive.

This type of “mis-action” is part of the reason why I originally posted in the “sisters” thread. In particular, I wrote a comment about why that article was problematic in that it did not suggest specific positive steps for change. In the absence of such, you inevitably end up with well-mentioning but poorly thought out ideas – such as attempting to erase the Algonquin name from history.

I hope people reconsider their support for that badly-considered petition in favor of steps that might be taken to effect real & positive change in our community.

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3 Anonymous July 6, 2020 at 9:30 AM

I agree, the naming if the school as “Algonquin” cannot be labeled as just “racist”. But this action is far from honoring anything or anyone. Also, I don’t like to assume but I am going to assume you have 0 connections to the Algonquin people, and so you therefore have 0 say in whether the name is harmful or offensive.
Below I am linking an article from the New York Times. Scroll down to where it says “ IDEA OF THE DAY: Racist mascot psychology”. You don’t have to read it of course but if you really want to stand by your beliefs, you should at least get informed about the REAL impacts names like Algonquin have on actual Native American kids/people, as well as the adverse affect on non-Native Americans.
Have a good day!

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4 Anonumous Student July 6, 2020 at 9:46 AM

Oops! It seems I forgot to link the article.
Here it is:
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/briefing/how-badly-is-america-doing.html

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5 Anonumous Student July 6, 2020 at 10:10 AM
6 Christine July 1, 2020 at 1:42 PM

Ridiculous

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7 THawk Proud!! July 1, 2020 at 3:11 PM

Mascots are used to educate people about Native American History. Banning the use of Native American Mascots actually discriminates against them because it prevents only them from being represented. I can tell that the 2000 signatures are from folks who have never worn the THawk uniform or have never been to a Friday night basketball/football game. We take pride in the Algonquin name so stop trying to change history and move onto a better cause. THawk proud alumni Class of 1986!!! Go THawks!!!

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8 Anonymous Student July 6, 2020 at 9:59 AM

Hello there! I have proudly worn the T-Hawk uniform for the past two years running the cross-country and track teams at Algonquin. I confidently say a great majority of the signatures on the petition are from current and past students. You can check some of the comments on the petition to confirm. We can’t change history but we can fix as many mistakes as we can now and move on to a better world where everyone feels respected.
Unfortunately NSBorough, in particular Southborough, is not known for its diversity. Native American people are underrepresented in this town, and therefore we can’t get feedback from the people who matter most in this matter. I am wondering just what are your credentials for being the spokesperson of whether the name Algonquin is offensive or not. Mascots like our schools promote stereotypical and harmful images of Native Americans. Below I am linking an article where you can learn more about how the use of Native American Mascots affects everyone from Native American People themselves.
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/briefing/how-badly-is-america-doing.html
Have a great day!

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9 John Kendall July 1, 2020 at 4:11 PM

Leave the name alone! It is not racist! And as for the tomahawk, it was not only a defense weapons, it was also used for hunting, working with wood, a multi purpose tool. Let’s move on folks. Proud grad class of 1975. Go Tomahawks!!

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10 Anonumous Student July 6, 2020 at 10:13 AM

Wow, it’s nice to meet a tomahawk historian! Now just what do the purposes of a tomahawk have to do with these arguments? I am copy-pasting part of my comment from above:
Below I am linking an article from the New York Times. Scroll down to where it says “ IDEA OF THE DAY: Racist mascot psychology”. You don’t have to read it of course but if you really want to stand by your beliefs, you should at least get informed about the REAL impacts names like Algonquin have on actual Native American kids/people, as well as the adverse effect on non-Native Americans.
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/briefing/how-badly-is-america-doing.html

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11 Susan Dargan July 1, 2020 at 4:25 PM

Many Native American people are not honored when people name teams, schools, and mascots after them. The research and data on this are easily available. It is time for a change; it is time to erase the history of high schools and sports teams that are named after Native Americans. Sports teams are often named after animals and Native Americans. What is the message there? Can you imagine the Washington White-Skins? Please tell me why there are no sports teams named the Caucasians.

For one reference, see the National Congress of American Indians’ position: http://www.ncai.org/proudtobe.

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12 Tim Martel July 1, 2020 at 4:47 PM

Susan, I’d agree with you that the Washington Redskins need to change their name. Its offensive and racist. The entire NFL organization should be held responsible until a change is made.

However, that is a far cry from the Algonquin Tomahawks. Please do not erroneously conflate these two very different situations.

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13 Susan Dargan July 2, 2020 at 10:20 AM

Tim: i am not conflating two “very different” issues. The Algonquin Tomahawks are on the same spectrum as the Washington Redskins, though I agree that he Redskins are possibly the most offensively-named.

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14 Dean Dairy July 1, 2020 at 10:52 PM

Hey, you know I don’t like to get involved in controversial issues.

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15 Djd66 July 2, 2020 at 3:18 AM

Our great state of Massachusetts was originally the Province of Massachusetts Bay. It was named after an Algonquian tribe, the Massachusett, which translates to something along the lines of “people of the great hill” or “at the place of large hills,” referring to the famous Blue Hills.

Should we also change the name of our state to something not so offensive?

What about the UMASS Minutemen? Should we change the name to minuteperson? Or maybe get rid of minutemen altogether as it is associated with war and guns.

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16 Christine July 2, 2020 at 10:50 AM

Thats probably next.

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17 absurd July 2, 2020 at 11:06 AM

This whole PC thing has got WAY out of hand. We’re off into deep space.

What’s coming next? Change the name of Southborough because South has negative connotations for some people?

…and what is it with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that has people so riled up? It seems to me they’re doing their job.

Is anyone paying attention to the pandemic? There’s a resurgence of cases because people wanted it to be over. It isn’t and it will not be for months to come. Let’s pay attention to keeping healthy and stop falling over one another trying to outdo the next person’s level of Political Correctness.

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18 Eileen July 2, 2020 at 1:02 PM

“This whole PC” thing, as you put it, is part of an important conversation that needs to be had. These are issues that affect real people.

The resurgence of cases is primarily in parts of the South and the Southwest of the US, where things were closed up too late, and opened up again too early. You’re right ..Because of this, the pandemic will not be over for quite awhile. It is very concerning.

People are capable of being concerned about more than one thing at a time.

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19 Sharon Zaniboni July 2, 2020 at 1:46 PM

Has everyone in this country gone crazy! Keep the name of the school and it’s mascot. Just what is it hurting??? There are more important things to concern yourself with! For starters, this country is in a war between Socialism and our way of life. Changing names of schools, buildings, destroying monuments and statues does absolutely nothing to change things! Wake up to the real truth of what is really going on here. You are just bowing down to the socialists and criminals!

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20 Will July 2, 2020 at 9:40 PM

Sharon,

What war are you referencing? Exactly what is ‘our way of life’ in your eyes? If you mean not being considerate of others, not treating people of various races/creeds/sexual orientations as you yourself want to be treated, and not thinking your government should help out in dire times such as these, than that’s not really a ‘way of life’ I’d like to keep around.

Monuments and statues representing people from a ‘country’ that lasted less time than same sex marriage has been legal (4 years for the confederacy), and which were erected during the Jim Crow era (far after the civil war ended) really have no place in the USA. Argue all you want about ‘not forgetting our history’, but you don’t exactly see statues of Hitler or any prominent Nazis in Germany, and no one has forgotten about them. There are other ways to teach and learn about that part of history without a monument or statue.

Lastly, who are these criminals you’re saying people are bowing down to? Seeing as no one is really bowing down to anyone, socialists or otherwise, I feel you’re just trying to paint people who have differing opinions than you in the same light that the 45th president of the US tries to, by being divisive and fear-mongering. I feel like people you accuse of being socialists are the type of people who advocate for a federal response to the pandemic, who want funding to go towards those truly in need and not big businesses, and who want to try and provide proper healthcare for more of the population.

There’s a reason the USA has far and away the highest number of Coronavirus cases, the most deaths, and an escalating number of cases while the EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other such countries have gotten a handle on things. On a per capita basis, the US has been the leader on virus metrics we should never want to be leading in. Socialism didn’t cause that, the President and his lack of belief in science, his partisan approach to masks and safety measures like lockdowns, and his belief (said again this week) that it’s just going to go away, did.

Things have needed to change for a long time in many respects. Treating people equally and getting rid of outdated and derogatory mascot/team names are just a part of that, and the students of today understand that, hence these petitions and protests.

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21 Anonumous Student July 6, 2020 at 10:09 AM

Very well written Will. Very necessary things to say and acknowledge.

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22 Karen Muggeridge July 6, 2020 at 10:45 AM

As it’s easier, I’m just copying the entire post I made on a fb site on this subject. I’m only including two links as the third was a screen shot I can’t share here. It was documentation from a Boylston resident explaining how the naming of the local schools for Native American tribes was in their honor. (Boylston’s high school is Tahanto Regional.)
_______________________________________________________________
I grew up in Northborough and am an ARHS grad. I am also co-administrator of a Northborough page where the Algonquin name change petition and discussion happened about a week ago. I was going to share this on the original thread, but unfortunately I can’t. Hence the new post.

Please read this from a long time Northborough resident.

“This is amazing, things being what they are now, it is amazing there is so much concern, and a lot of not so true information about the Algonquin Indian Nation. Having grown up with Chief Henry Red Eagle, he would find this very entertaining. The Algonquin Indian Nation was made up of all the Tribes in this area, as well as New York. Each Tribe elected a leader, or Chief, to represent them in the Algonquin Nation.I would suggest reading the book “Aboriginally Yours, Chief Henry Red Eagle.. It is a History of his life and experience as a Chief in the Algonquin Nation. I can state from first hand experience that he felt it was an honor to the Algonquin Nation to have a School named for them. Changing the name now would be showing disrespect to the Algonquin Nation.”

I remember Chief Henry Red Eagle, and he came to our house for dinner, years ago. (Apparently both my sister and I wanted to sit next to him, so with wisdom, he sat between us.) I remember him in full regalia over the many years when we would join this other family at a camp in NH.

This topic has come up many times over the years, and there are well intentioned people on all sides. I think the one consensus is that the mascot and chants need to be eliminated.

I am going to post three comments with links below this that may give people a bit more information as they decide where they come down on this issue.

Thanks for reading.

https://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/20170226/bill-seeks-ban-on-native-american-mascots?fbclid=IwAR0MREYy4c3kIWv3jdhjbZYc81i8RZekb4nnzjgWWuvaaRniwoGpKrnVG0Y

https://www.telegram.com/news/20170610/playing-indian-nipmucs-offer-views-on-proposed-anti-mascot-bill?fbclid=IwAR0iNYbsWyk_8oq6h8j0yiP1VIcXtrsGOIKMMbPmikH1pqn0rzRxZI7rVsI

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23 n July 6, 2020 at 12:23 PM

Keeping it short and simple.

Some white people are not offended by things that non-white people may be offended by and do not understand why non-white people are offended.

Some white people know someone in a non-white group that are not offended. That individual is now representative of all members of that group and we have nothing to worry about..

Anyone else see the problem?

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24 Tim Martel July 9, 2020 at 10:20 AM

You are offering up an absurd option but ignoring that the flip side is just as absurd.
This argument is very easy to flip around, and then the whole thing falls apart.

i.e.
“some white people ARE offended by things that non-white people may NOT be offended by…some white people know someone in a non-white group that IS offended. That individual is now representative of all members of that (non-white) group…”

In essence, you are arguing by offering up a False Dichotomy.

“This fallacy seeks to reduce a complex issue down to one of two choices. Usually, one of these choices is also discredited or made to seem unappealing, and so the other option must be correct. This is a fallacy because issues can seldom be reduced to just one either / or choice.”

Link: https://seanhamptoncole.wordpress.com/2015/08/15/7-logical-fallacies-simplified/

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25 Current Algonquin Student July 7, 2020 at 8:17 PM

As a current Algonquin student, I find it quite sad to think that all of the school culture is going to be changed/taken away. Some my favorite memories at Algonquin have been going to Tomahawk’s games, and with all of the changes possibly happening, the pride that I have in my school is being taken away. At least in my experience, zero negative remarks have been made against the school name or mascot. There are definitely some racial/lgbtq+ acceptance issues at Algonquin, but I just don’t think it is necessary to change the mascot and school name. Also, many students want change, but don’t think about the economic impact of this- All of the signs at the school will have to be changed and all of the uniforms, amongst other things.

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26 northsider July 9, 2020 at 12:41 PM

Changing the name does not take away athletics and community at the school and in our town. If you can find pride in the school with its existing name, I’m sure that same pride could be found with another name.

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27 JMO July 8, 2020 at 8:19 PM

I do think their is a huge difference between naming a team or school “The Redskins” (for example) and naming a school with the appropriate name of a Tribe with ties to the region. The first makes a mockery and the second shows respect and honor. As for the fact that there are no teams or mascots named the “Whites” or the “Caucasians”, can you imagine the uproar in the current climate if there were?

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28 Algonquin parent July 11, 2020 at 11:41 PM

At the risk of stepping into a minefield, I would say there are so many memories of the native peoples around here in the beautiful place names: Nashua, Nashoba, Quinnipiac, Quinsigamond, Algonquin, Massachusetts (yes, hello!). The list goes on. I, for one, love the beautiful resonance in our daily lives of the people who lived here before and whose descendents are still proudly living among us. To me it is an honoring to use these beautiful and often tragic names. Correct me if I’m wrong.

I suppose we could rename our state. On the other hand, we could give compensation to those people whose ancestors the Europeans abused. Or how about equal lending opportunity from the banks?

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