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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.