To the editor:
As the nation at large reevaluates its institutions, local activists have made many demands of the Pentucket Regional School District: diversity and inclusion training, updates to the social studies curriculum, amplified voices of BIPOC in teaching materials, etc.
While I’m proud to say that most of these demands have been met by the school board, the most glaring issue, many feel, has not. It’s time to retire Pentucket’s mascot, the Sachem.
There’s an overwhelming consensus among Indigenous peoples that so-called “native" mascots are offensive. The largest organization of these voices, the National Coalition of American Indians, has conducted a 50-year campaign to rid the country of native mascots.
Their position is clear: “These caricatures and stereotypes are harmful ... and contribute to a disregard for the personhood of Native peoples.”
Study after study by our most respected research institutions have shown the extent of this issue. Despite a propaganda campaign led by the newly nameless Washington football team, research from the American Psychological Association, U-Michigan/UC Berkeley, and the National Indian Education Association prove that these mascots rob native people of their culture, are highly opposed by most, and negatively affect their formation of self-identity.
Native communities face staggering oppression. Medically, the Navajo Nation had the highest rate of coronavirus infection in the country. Geographically, tribal lands are still being seized by state and local governments. Judicially, Indigenous people are murdered by police at the highest rate of any group in America.
Many feel that the systemic racism native communities face is due, in large part, to how American culture at large dehumanizes them. To quote activist and Penobscot Nation tribal ambassador Maulian Dana, change can't "happen in a real way until all the mascots are gone.”
Presently, we are part of the problem. To be part of the solution, we must stop reducing native culture to a stereotype, a costume and a mascot.
Tucked away on the Pentucket Regional School District’s website, the school’s mission statement describes a grand vision for the district.
A portion reads, “The hallmarks of this community are educational excellence, respect for self and others, and responsible, ethical citizens.”
While these strong words are inspiring, they are completely nullified by the offensive symbol that looms above: a caricature of a native person. Until the Sachem is retired, Pentucket’s action, and inaction, will speak louder than its words.