ARHS Mascot Update: Nipmucs and other Native tribes object to use of “Thunderhawks”

by beth on September 24, 2021

Post image for ARHS Mascot Update: Nipmucs and other Native tribes object to use of “Thunderhawks”

Above: Algonquin is studying what symbol should replace the Tomahawks for their Athletics mascot on gym floors and uniforms. It’s unlikely to be an alternative version of T-Hawks. (image cropped from Mascot Study Group’s proposal recommending to retire the current mascot)

Earlier this week, I shared news on the effort to replace Algonquin Regional High School’s mascot. As I explained, there was public upset over a consultant’s advice to not use popular choices voted on by the public this summer.

At this point the Mascot Study Group still hasn’t voted. But the odds of the group selecting the most popular choice just became much slimmer. 

Publicly shared survey results showed that Thunderhawks and Hawks were the 1st and 2nd in the list of suggestions to replace the Tomahawks. A consultant had advised the group against choosing either due to strong associations with Native American culture. Though the study group would be considering his opinion, the advice was describes as “non-binding”.

Yesterday afternoon, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Kieth Lavoie emailed the community an update on the meeting the group held on Monday. In the message, he explained that the Study Group looked at whether or not use of “Thunderhawks” would be “cultural appropriation”. As part of that effort, the administration had reached out to Native Tribes.

The linked summary showed that the opinions from the majority of respondents who weighed in were against Algonquin using the term. One of the strongest objections was from the tribe closest by and most closely associated with Algonquin people from our area, the Nipmuc Nation.

Here are some of those highlights:

Brittney Walley, spokesperson for Nipmuc Chief Holley, responded:

I would like to reinforce the fact that Native American imagery is not appropriate for sports mascots. I would discourage the use of the term ‘Thunderhawk’ for at least, but not limited to, the following reasons:

  • Thunderbirds and beings are spiritually significant to local tribes with a historic presence.
  • Hawks are spiritually significant to local tribes with a historic presence, and although they are a part of nature, it is in my opinion not enough of a departure from cultural appropriation.
  • …Thunder Hawk is the name of not one, but two significant Native leaders. This would be the same as renaming the mascot with any Native leader, and would clearly be a continued use of Native imagery. In fact, usage of the term can lead to conflating more parts of Native history.

The objection from a spokesperson for the Narragansett Chief Sachem included, “Same penny, you’re just turning it over” and that choosing it “would be rewarding those who seek to maintain a painful history and culture”. 

Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk – Abenaki Nation opined:

one should stay away from anything that relates to Native American people, connotations, or symbols if your organization/school is not Native American. Otherwise, as you correctly identified, you will fall into the same problematic issue of perception. . .

Many Native cultures have the “Thunderbird” as part of their stories and symbolisms. This could be too close of a term to “Thunderhawk” but I am not an expert on how you market or explain the slight difference.

There was one outlier, Chief Edward Peter-Paul of Maine’s Aroostook Band of Micmacs. He didn’t have an issue with the Thunderhawk. He did perceive it as a Native American symbot, but doesn’t taking offense to most forms of Native American mascotting. (He views it as a form of admiration.) Still, he acknowledged that some would be sensitive to it. He suggested going with Hawks or Eagles.

The administration also reached out to the Mohegan tribe in Connecticut. A spokesperson declined to weigh in on an out-of-state issue.

According to Lavoie’s message, the Study Group will further discuss the issue at their next meeting. They will determine whether or not “Thunderhawks” meets the following criteria for inclusion as a possible mascot:

  • Be representative of the ARHS community and/or the environment, including the fact that ARHS represents both Northborough and Southborough. 

  • Reflect or symbolize one or more of the qualities of unity, strength, integrity, courage, and dignity.

  • Be easily identifiable, easy to relate to, and unique to the region.

  • Reflect our current school colors.

  • Be universally applicable for all activities, projecting a positive image.

  • Be void of any cultural appropriation: it should not reflect, represent, or be associated with a particular group based upon race, ethnicity, religion, or culture.

The group will also identify additional top-ranking choices that should be considered.

The message closed with an invitation to learn more and comment:

I invite all interested members of the ARHS community to share their thoughts by emailing mascotstudygroup@nsboro.k12.ma.us. The input received will be shared with the Renaming Study Group. I am also asking the ARHS community to review the FAQ document, which addresses the most frequently asked questions about the Mascot review process, including the renaming phase. 

The Study Group will convene in October to continue this work. I encourage you to remain informed and involved in the Study Group’s work as the mascot renaming process progresses. 

I am thankful for the hard work and dedication of the working group. I am optimistic that the members’ thoughtfulness and dedication to our school’s past and future will result in the development of exciting mascot options this fall.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Al September 25, 2021 at 7:24 AM

Let the towns vote on this subject! Put it to a town vote!

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2 School Resident September 26, 2021 at 11:58 AM

While the name Thunderhawk is born of Native American origin, it seems fair for the native community to object to the name and a bit ridiculous of us to switch to considering we are claiming we care by switching in the first place. But, saying “Hawks are spiritually significant to local tribes with a historic presence, and although they are a part of nature, it is in my opinion not enough of a departure from cultural appropriation” is just absurd. Literally the land we live on is spiritually significant to the Native people, by these standards they won’t be happy with anything until we leave the land. We are showing them respect by moving on from the Tomahawk name, a semblance of sanity should be given in return or else we should just stick with the Tomahawk.

Not saying we should be the Hawks either, two other local towns are already the Hawks.

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3 Tim Martel September 27, 2021 at 10:59 AM

Just goes to show you what kind of lunacy is really driving this debate.

Of course we should be sensitive and appropriate. But is that everyone’s real goal here? Too many people find a crisis to be an opportunity to gain power and attention, and they don’t really want the problem solved…

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4 Frank Crowell September 27, 2021 at 11:38 AM

First a question: Will there be legal ramifications for people who attend AHS sporting events and break out in the “tomahawk chop?”



After looking into this issue for months, I have a suggestion that should help the situation. First change the name of the AHS to “The Virtue Seeking Academy of Massachusetts.” The sports teams can be called the “VS’ers.” The team mascot is one or all of the Teletubbies but if it is has to be one, we can go with the gender neutral one. 



The fight song could go something like this:



I’m a VS’er hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore…. To the tune of “I am Woman” by Hellen Reddy. This needs more work…….shouldn’t be too difficult to complete.



Going this way will be completely inoffensive to any particular group race, ethnicity, religion, or culture. The Woke should get right behind this. If all goes well, the school district should get state wide TV coverage……..maybe even national coverage.



By the way, how is the CRT training going?

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5 Awk!?! September 27, 2021 at 12:30 PM

How about the Algonquin Auks?

You know, a small flightless bird related to puffins and penguins?

Although people of Antarctic heritage might be upset…

How can the native American tribes live with the school’s name – Algonquin? Isn’t its use somehow offensive? What about all of the town names in the US that originated with tribal names or words?

This whole “politically correct” discussion itself is politically offensive and goes off the charts. Woke has become synonymous with joke!

Can we just get back to Asian and Black discrimination issues in the metrowest region of the commonwealth? What about those two mixed race sisters who supposedly grew up and went to school here?

You’ll have to pardon me as I have to go barf now…

Unbelievable.

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6 Steve Cummins September 27, 2021 at 12:46 PM

As a person of Irish decent, I will be recommending that all Irish mascot likenesses be removed from sports teams. The Boston Celtics and Notre Dame Fighting Irish are first on my list.
….this is sarcasm in case you didn’t know. I think the NIPUC tribe and their spokeswoman are being absolutely ridiculous.

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7 Awk!?! S September 27, 2021 at 4:20 PM

Uh… that’s Nipmuc or Nipmuck

We still have half of America believing the President isn’t really the President and in our little hamlet we’re still wasting time over “issues” like this one?

Come on people, you’ve much bigger issues to tackle – like saving your own country!

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8 Matthew Brownell September 27, 2021 at 11:10 PM

Steve Cummins – Thank you!! A much-needed clarion voice-of-reason in this ridiculous, gratuitous, awkward, race-baiting, identity-politic compost heap.

Can’t wait for the “consultant” to suggest renaming our sports teams to the “Northborough/Southborough [football] [basketball] teams”. It’s just epic insanity.

Not sure what is more embarrassing . . . a consultant who is actually engaged (and getting paid?) for this 7×24 self-flagellation and alternate galaxy of eternal angst . . . or the fact that some highly educated adults of NBRO and SBRO continue to wallow in this imbecilic, lowest-of-low-priority time-suck.

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9 Al September 27, 2021 at 3:08 PM

Total waste of taxpayer dollars to rebrand the mascot. Even if its $100, its a waste. Some of the numbers that were tossed around were upwards of $300K? Surely ANY funds can be redirected to more educational purposes, perhaps teaching some native American History? School committees recently voted to get rid of the mascots in North Brookfield and Wakefield, when put to a town vote those votes were over turned. Let the towns vote.

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10 roxanneperro2@gmail.com September 28, 2021 at 8:05 AM

Let’s tear down each and every statue, burn all history books, change recognizable food names, school names, mascots from high schools to professional teams, etc., etc., just to pander to those who have become irrational, overly sensitive, and who really have a dislike for this great nation and it’s history.

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11 northsider October 13, 2021 at 1:13 PM

Pretty broad strokes here. It’s completely appropriate to change some names and tear down some statues that don’t stand for our great nation and its history.

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12 Matthew September 28, 2021 at 9:27 AM

We can’t be inventing the cultural sensitivity process with every situation. There needs to be a socially accepted reaction scale created that can be applied which satisfies enough of the folks on all sides.
For example:
Level one is removing obvious local offensive references. Tomahawks is a great example.
Level two is more aggressive and digs deeper into an institution and seeks to remove all parallel culturally offensive references. What is the equivalent to Tomahawks that exists for other ethnic or social groups?
Level three is a total wipe of all ethnic references. Boston Celtics would not survive this level.

Phasing out the offensive language is done over time. Uniform designs get rotated out every several years to keep the suppliers profitable so change the name at the next rotation. Gym floors get refinished so logos and names get swapped out then. It’s not that hard. We don’t typically carve these names into anything we expect to last.
Even Cheerleaders can learn new cheers, I’m sorry but it can’t be any more challenging than the physical requirements of your sport.

Stop being surprised that stuff comes up that offends people and stop being so offended by every thing. Change comes slowly. Let’s be happy with the change and a bit more tolerant of each other.

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13 Phil LaBelle September 28, 2021 at 1:22 PM

Seeing that moving to a new mascot has been approved by the School Committee, why would anyone want to go with a new mascot that might be questionable? Do people really want to go through this again?

While these suggestion may not seem inappropriate to some, it’s easy to see that going from Tomahawks (T-Hawks) to Thunderhawks (T-Hawks)—or even just “Hawks”—is a band-aid solution or a quick fix at best. So when representatives of local Native American tribes say it out loud, we should pay attention to that. Given all that has happened to Native Americans throughout the decades—part of the history we tend to avoid teaching—it seems the least that we could do.

While change is never easy, I know that our towns will rally around the new mascot with gusto and vim once it’s selected because it will continue to represent what we’re most proud of: our kids.

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14 Kate Noke September 28, 2021 at 8:46 PM

I have to admit to being quite taken aback by the vehemence of some of the comments here. Strong emotions are in play, but I wouldn’t have expected to see the level of vitriol at the idea of being respectful to another culture. Perhaps it’s a matter of education, that it isn’t totally clear why the mascot is being retired and the name is being changed? I remember cringing watching scantily clad students (shirtless boys, girls in crop tops and shorts) in “warpaint” yelling at ARHS games when my kids were growing up. I didn’t grow up here. I spent my first 22 or so years in Ireland, and I can tell you that I find the Notre Dame leprechaun pretty offensive. I also think the term “paddywagon” is grossly offensive. To you, that might make me seem overly sensitive. In my case, it takes me back to history class in secondary school, learning about the stereotypical negative images of the Irish as drunken ignorant brawling thugs and the “No Irish need apply” signs in the US in the mid-19th century. If you’re unaware of the history of the discrimination endured by peoples depicted in the mascots that have been adopted by sports teams, and simply think that those who oppose them are just being politically-correct babies, I would hope you would spend some time trying to see the other side. For example, here’s an article from the APA: https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/indian-mascots

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15 Southville October 1, 2021 at 8:51 AM

I totally agree. Especially since there are literally THOUSANDS or more choices of mascot. Why not just choose one that we are sure isn’t insensitive? What’s the point in getting upset if a few of those many, many choices are offensive to someone? Just move on, pick something else.

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16 Djd66 September 30, 2021 at 12:48 AM

Why don’t they consider selling the naming rights? You could have a 10 year contract. Part of the contract would say you pay for all uniforms and you get to name the team.

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17 ARHS Class of 74 October 5, 2021 at 3:59 PM

It’s sad to see that a light hearted topic like a school mascot has been so divisive on both sides of the argument.

I suggest we change the name to something that really connects the two towns of Northborough and Southborough and rename our teams “The Aqua Ducks” Who could argue with that?

If that fails, I like Djd66’s idea of selling naming rights.

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18 My2Cents October 21, 2021 at 11:05 AM

Algonquin Fidget Spinners has a nice ring to it….

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