Turners Falls High school will be getting a new mascot, now that the Gill-Montague School Committee — following months of contentiousness — has voted to abolish the longtime “Indians” name from school sports teams.
The Tuesday night vote was 6 to 3, after the superintendent argued that using the Indian as a mascot perpetuates stereotypes and presents a mixed message over civil rights.
Committee member Marjorie Levenson said she’d gone back and forth on the issue, but she did her own historical research on Indian imagery.
Also, “I think I received 150 to 200 emails from various members and individuals from Indian tribes or Native Americans,” she said.
Levenson said diversity is more valued in today’s schools than it was in the early 20th century, when the mascot was introduced.
“One of my best friends says, ‘Well, I loved the mascot; It made me very happy to be a cheerleader.’ And I understand that,” Levenson said. “But if it makes a member of a Native American tribe feel it hurts them and it’s degrading to them, then I have to say to myself, ‘I guess morality or ethics prevail.'”
Some defenders of the Indian mascot have said it honors local Native American history.
School Committee chairman Mike Langknecht was among those voting against the mascot change, though he said he was mostly voting against the process. He said the committee had not finished debating the issue with full community participation, and while various stakeholders may have the chance to weigh-in on the next mascot, “one of those alternatives will not be the Indians — the Turners Falls Indians.”
Langknecht said the committee did agree to let emotions settle for a while. That means avoiding any discussion of a new mascot for at least two more public meetings.
Other schools in the area still use Native American images and mascots, including the Taconic Braves in Pittsfield; the Indians in Ware and North Brookfield; and the Red Raiders in Athol and Springfield.