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.