After focus group input, Shawnee Mission North, district leaders decided to keep Indian mascot, tweak pre-game ceremonies

A bust of the Indian mascot sits in the main hallway of Shawnee Mission North.

The male student playing the Shawnee Mission North Indian chief mascot will no longer wear a headdress and the female student playing the Indian princess will no longer kneel before the chief in pre-game ceremonies.

Those are two of the most significant changes the school is making to its mascot program after a review process this spring that included four focus groups on use of the Indian as a mascot and other diversity issues. That review process came in the wake of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma’s decision to rescind the permission it had granted in 1992 for the use of the Indian as a mascot at the school. Shawnee Mission North’s sports teams have been called the Indians since the school opened as Shawnee Mission Rural High School in the 1920s.

“I think it’s a situation that we’re always going to continue to monitor,” said Shawnee Mission North Principal Dave Tappan of the district’s decision to continue using the Indian mascot. “And we’re going to do what’s best for the Shawnee Mission North community and the Shawnee Mission North student body and the alumni as we move through on making difficult decisions. We always want to do what’s best for our students, and in this case at this point, we think the best thing is to continue to carry on the tradition as the Shawnee Mission North Indians.”

The four focus groups, which featured separate groups of around a dozen community members, educators, high school students and middle school students, took place in late March and early April. After those input sessions were complete, building administrators met with district administrators and focus group participants to make the decision on whether to maintain the Indian as the school mascot.

“It was a collaborative effort between building administrators and district administrators that, at this point, we would like to continue as the Shawnee Mission North Indians,” Tappan said.

Members of the board of education were not directly involved in the decision making process, according to sources familiar with the situation. Some district officials were not aware until this week that a decision had been made in the matter.

Tappan emphasized that the school would continue to make efforts to ensure that the mascot program is carried out in a respectful manner. He said that administrators have no tolerance for the “tomahawk chop” cheer, and “put that to an end” if it ever breaks out during a game or pep rally. He and Associate Principal Annette Gonzales said that the application process for serving as the Indian chief or princess is rigorous, and designed to ensure students serving in the role treat it seriously.

Tappan said the decision to have the student playing the Indian chief no longer wear a headdress came in response to concerns from community members.

“One of the things we learned through the focus groups was what high regard and respect the Indian chief has to have in order to wear that headdress,” Tappan said. “And so we decided the best thing to do at this time was not to have our student that’s servings as as the Indian chief wear that headdress.”

The district will continue to use graphics depicting an Indian chief wearing a headdress among its rotation of several logos, however.

The Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma’s decision to rescind the permission tribal leaders had granted the district in 1992 came after students at Lawrence High School protested the placement of a banner with the SM North Indian mascot logo inside their school.