Shawnee tribal chief, Shawnee Mission board president voice support to retire Native American mascots

A sign showing the Shawnee Mission North High School Indian mascot

SM North High School is one of four schools in SMSD that uses either "Indians" or "Braves" as its mascot. Those mascots are set to be retired under a new policy adopted by the Board of Education Monday, Jan. 25. File photo.

The president of the Shawnee Mission Board of Education and the chief of the Shawnee Tribe have penned a joint letter in support of the district’s move to retire Native American mascots at four schools.

The board on Monday night unanimously approved a new policy that states, in part, that district mascots shall “represent a school in a positive manner” and shall “not be derogatory or offensive, or make reference to a protected class of people.”

That means four schools that are currently using “Indians” or “Braves” as mascots — SM North High School and Belinder, Rushton and Shawanoe Elemenatries — will have to select new ones.

In the letter, Board President Heather Ousley and Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe argue that now is the time for these mascots to be retired and new ones adopted:

Throughout the long story of this place we call Shawnee Mission, the spirit and history of Native American peoples runs like an unbroken thread. Long before immigrants of European descent populated these lands, native peoples were here. Some were here long before history was written down. Others, such as the Kansas Shawnee, also known as the Loyal Shawnee Band, were relocated to “Indian Territory” after the Indian Removal Act of 1830, a displacement that would not be their last.

Many schools in the Shawnee Mission School District carry forward remnants of that legacy, in name or in mascot. Generally, they were created at a different moment in our history, and without the knowledge or participation of those whose lives and spirit they represent. As such, some of them no longer measure up to the spirit of recognition in which they were created.

The time has come to better align our language and our symbols to the values we represent. This is work that cannot be done in isolation. Rather, like much that is good in our lives, it is work that must be done in communion with those who represent the lived experiences of all who inhabit this beautiful country. It is the work of building relationships, so that our children might have a fuller understanding of who we have been, and a broader sense of who we can become.

In the Strategic Plan approved by the Shawnee Mission Board of Education in June 2019, the district committed to this work: “We will relentlessly create a fully unified, equitable, and inclusive culture.” The Board has begun that work by developing a Board policy that lays out a clear standard for what images are appropriate to use in representing our school spirit. Last night [Monday, Jan. 25], the Board passed Policy ACA: School Mascots, which prohibits mascots that are derogatory or offensive to a person or class of persons, and requires that mascots be culturally and racially sensitive.

We are on a journey, as a district and as a community, and this is but the first step. Together, we will continue to work toward practices and procedures that treat all peoples with dignity and respect.

Sincerely,

Chief Ben Barnes
Shawnee Tribe

Heather Ousley, President (on behalf of)
Shawnee Mission Board of Education