MIAMI, Okla. — Outrage and applause occurred when the Washington football team dropped Redskins as its mascot name last week, and many wondered if Wapakoneta High School might follow suit.
However, in a statement from the school’s superintendent Aaron Rex, it was made clear that they were not pursuing a mascot change in the near future, and this decision sparked a major debate locally and nationally.
A change.org petition was posted by Wapakoneta alumni asking for a change of the mascot.
This decision also caught the attention of Ben Barnes, chief of the Shawnee tribe, who expressed disappointment and anger in a tweet over the school’s statement. He said he hoped the school would reconsider its latest decision.
Barnes, reached by telephone in Miami, Oklahoma, took note that in the statement that it mentioned Chief Black Hoof and the Shawnee tribe and how it honors him and respects the history of the Native American in Wapakoneta.
“They called out the history of Black Hoof and how this was some sort of honor to Black Hoof’s people, and that is kind of strange to feel so honored when no one has ever talked to us,” Barnes said. “No one has ever talked to the family of Black Hoof.
“I think saying they are honoring us is at best disingenuous.”
Barnes, who said this type of situation comes up from time to time, adds that the Shawnee tribe has never stepped in and asked a school to change or remove a mascot, but he would like for them to think of what they are doing and really interrogate what they are saying and ask themselves if they had talked to anybody about the mascot.
“How do the people that we have done this to, how do they feel about it? Ask those questions, and if you don’t want to trust people’s emotions about it, ask science,” Barnes said. “What happens to children when they see their ethnicity turned into a caricature?”
Barnes finds it hypocritical that they say it honors the Native American but use a word that is racially insensitive. He said members of his tribe do not refer to themselves by that name. He said the word “redskin” has a long history of being used and has a lot of baggage attached to it.
Barnes also illustrates the point that mascots and cartoon characters that were offensive to Hispanics, such as Frito Bandido and Speedy Gonzales, and those were quickly removed, yet Native American stereotypes and slurs continue to exist.
Other examples that were removed because they were deemed offensive were calling individuals from Asia “Oriental” or African-Americans “colored.”
“Those things were long gone, and we didn’t even have to think about it,” Barnes said. “We just knew it was wrong. We knew it was wrong and needed to go, but why is it that this mythology of American Indian peoples is still perpetuated?”
Barnes points out that what makes this even more emotionally charged for the Shawnee tribe is that Wapakoneta was the last village of Black Hoof. It is where he died, right before the Shawnee tribe was forcibly removed from the land and force-marched to Kansas.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 granted unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. The act forced the expulsion of thousands of Native Americans from their land into the west and is often referred to as the systematic genocide of the Native American because of the loss of life to thousands of people who were forced to trek across the country in the west.
“The Shawnees of Wapakoneta and the Shawnees of Hog Creek were both forced marched after The Indian Removal Act, so Wapakoneta is built on the pain and suffering and tears of the Shawnee people, and they can’t even get the headdress right or talk to us about the mascot,” Barnes said.
Wapakoneta did make changes to its logo recently, however a caricature of a Native American with a headdress still adorns the Wapakoneta district’s website.
Barnes said there has to be an open dialogue about these types of issues.
“We know it is wrong. We feel it in our bones that it is wrong,” Barnes added. “American Indians always seem to be this vestigial leftover of issues that nobody wants to confront, and I think of The Indian Removal Act and these places that were homeland to Indian people and they were removed. They forced them to essentially what were concentration areas inside of Oklahoma. We have to talk about that and how did we get here.”
Barnes understands that one of the criticisms he hears that there are bigger issues to deal with other than worrying about mascots, especially with the pandemic, poverty and politics. He said it is also important to continue the dialogue.
“Our nation and our office is totally preoccupied with COVID, and I can’t devote 50 hours to this, but at some point I will reach out to the school district, and so my tweeting was in a way to say don’t presume to speak for the Shawnee tribe. We are still here. I occupy the seat of Black Hoof’s descendent government. I’m in that position, so why not come to our nation and ask us. Black Hoof’s family exists. I know these people. They are here. They are available.”
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468.