Three years after the district stood by Shawnee Mission North’s Indian mascot, alumni are calling for a change by the school’s 100th anniversary in 2022.
Organizer Amy Hastings, a 2011 alumna, said the current political climate and conversations about social change initially encouraged her to start the change.org petition and Facebook group SMN Alumni Against Cultural Appropriation.
The final push came from Glenna Wallace, Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma Chief, who was serving as chief in 2017 when the tribe’s council rescinded its 1992 approval of the Indian mascot.
Wallace told Hastings the tribe would never approve of the Indian mascot again.
“It’s just time to move on. In the beginning, I’m sure they intended it to be an honor. But when the people that are supposed to feel honored feel disrespected, is it really an honor?” Wallace said following the 2017 decision.
The school conducted a review of its mascot program following the tribes’ move to rescind the permission for its use, but ultimately decided to keep the Indian as a mascot with minimal changes. That decision frustrated some area Native Americans.
While past attempts have been unsuccessful, Hastings said she hopes support from longtime SM North legacies and new board members will lead to a different outcome. Hastings noted research of psychological effects Native American mascots have on indigenous students as one reason to push for the change.
“I think that this is a way to show all students, indigenous students included, that we honor them and respect their culture — and that we’re not going to stand for this,” Hastings said.
Shawnee Mission Chief Communications Officer David Smith provided the following statement regarding the petition:
“Our strategic plan involves an ongoing examination of our policies, our practices and outcomes to align with our mission, beliefs, objectives, strategies and action steps. The strategic plan has imbedded strong values around diversity, equity and inclusion. These speak to a variety of issues, including mascots.
At the moment, the impact of the global pandemic requires us to have a singular focus on getting schools started in August, prepared for whatever public health reality awaits us at that time. Once school has started, we will be able to turn our attention to continuing to adjust our practices to align with our values, using a community engagement process to do this work.”
The main opposition Hastings has encountered is that changing the mascot would require time and money. But Hastings and her supporters said they understand these challenges and do not expect change to happen overnight.
Questions remain about how a mascot change would impact SM North traditions like “Tribe tenants” and class gifts that feature the Indian mascot, but Hastings said a new mascot would add to the school’s tradition — not take away from it.
“We still stand for respect and community and all that but as an educational institution, we’re learning from the past and we’re growing,” Hastings said. “I think that could truly add to our tradition and to our strong roots in the community and to our history as a school.”
Brian Nigus is in favor of making the change. Nigus served as the school’s mascot and said while he recalls being told what not to do while dressed as the mascot (such as wearing face paint) he was not taught about the Shawnee tribe’s culture or the significance of the regalia.
The 2007 alumnus said as a naive high school student, he didn’t see the harm in dressing up as an “Indian Chief.” Now, he said he recognizes the mascot as problematic and is embarrassed to acknowledge his participation.
“I think that students that become the first new mascot will have even better memories of being part of the change that’s going to happen at North,” Nigus said. “Those students will have even more pride in their school to know that they’ve made a change to do something for the better.”
More than 1,300 people have signed the petition that will be used to show the community’s support to Shawnee Mission board members. Alumni from the Facebook group will hold a virtual town hall on July 8 to discuss a plan of action including fundraising, new mascot ideas and overall next steps.
Additionally, alumni plan to organize a smaller task force that can bring resources and connections. These efforts are aimed at being prepared not only for opposition, but to bring at least suggestions and solutions to board members, Hastings said.