‘People are not mascots’ — Chief of Shawnee Tribe urges SMSD to adopt new mascot policy

A sign showing the Shawnee Mission North High School Indian mascot

The Shawnee Mission Board of Education Monday heard from several individuals Monday about updating a mascot policy that would retire Native American mascots — like the one above used by Shawnee Mission North High school. 

The Shawnee Mission Board of Education Monday heard from a number of people on both sides of the issue during its first reading of a new mascot policy that would retire Native American mascots.

Several individuals spoke in favor of the new policy including Ben Barnes, chief of the federally-recognized Shawnee Tribe. Barnes asked the board for equality and urged the board to accept that “people are not mascots.”

“We do not accept this of any other ethnicity,” Barnes said. “You do not honor us by putting us on your jackets, you do not honor us by putting us on diplomas — we are not caricatures. We are real people with cultures, regions and feelings.”

What the new policy says

The new policy would implement the following requirements for all school mascots:

  • Mascots will not be derogatory or offensive to a person or class of persons based on a protective class as defined in policy AC.
  • Mascots will not make reference toward a person or class of persons based on a protective class as defined in policy AC.
  • Mascots will be culturally and racially sensitive and appropriate.
  • Mascots will depict individuals with fairness, dignity and respect.
  • Mascots will not run counter to the district’s mission of creating a fully unified, equitable and inclusive culture.
  • If the board determines that a mascot fails to comply with this policy then the mascot will be retired and a new mascot for the school will be selected through a process approved by the superintendent.
Ben Barnes, chief of the Shawnee Tribe, said it’s time for the district to accept that “people are not mascots” and do not belong on signage, diplomas or jackets. File photo.

Opposing sides

While more than 3,500 have signed the alumni-led petition to change the mascot, almost 2,800 have signed a counter-petition to keep it.

The counter-petition was started by SM North alum Emmitt Monslow, who says he’s Native American — a point questioned by some members of the SM North community.

Monslow previously told the Post, in response to the community’s concern about his ethnicity, he doesn’t currently have a tribal identification card, though he’s working to get one through the Choctaw Tribe.

Monslow and two others spoke in favor of keeping Native American mascots. Mike McVey, a SM North graduate, said he thinks the initial intent in choosing an Indian mascot was to honor Native Americans — not  insult them.

“I think after 98 years, if this school board decides that our attempt in our community to honor the Native American heritage is insulting, I think you’d be making a decision that after 98 years would be the worst decision by this school board that it’s ever made,” McVey said.

The board’s next steps

Shawnee Mission West area board member Laura Guy asked how the district would guide schools whose mascots are found non-compliant. Superintendent Mike Fulton said there would be an administrative analysis completed to identify the cost of each change.

Superintendent Mike Fulton said, if the policy is approved along with a resolution identifying the non-compliant mascots, the decision process could be completed by the end of the school year. Implementation could take more than a year, though, he said. File photo.

“I think you’re talking about a year or more in implementation, realistically,” Fulton said. “It all depends on when the decision is made about the mascot, to change it, the length of time it takes that school to complete their process and for me to sign off on it. Then, we would get to work on it.”

Jessica Hembree, Shawnee Mission South area board member, clarified with Fulton that he previously said the decision for a new mascot could be completed by the end of the 2020-2021 school year. Fulton said that’s the goal in terms of choosing a replacement mascot, but implementing that change could take up to a year or more.

While the policy will be on the board’s Jan. 11 agenda, the meeting is workshop only and no action will be taken. Assuming there are no substantial issues or changes, the board will formally consider the new mascot policy on Jan. 25.