Wis. high school won't bring back Indian mascot

  • Article by: DINESH RAMDE
  • Associated Press
  • February 1, 2014 - 1:25 PM

MUKWONAGO, Wis. — Walk inside the Wisconsin high school that was the focus of a fight over Native American mascots and you'd be hard-pressed to find a single image of the school's Indian logo or mention of its nickname.

A law passed last month gave Mukwonago High School the right to restore its logo on the gym floor and its nickname on athletic uniforms. But district officials have no immediate plans to switch back after changing most logos during the three-year fight.

School districts could object to Wisconsin's 2010 law requiring the state's Department of Public Instruction to hold hearings on race-based nicknames if the agency received even a single complaint. But most schools had already given up their Native American mascots by the time the law was changed last month, and officials said they had spent too much time and money on the change to backpedal now.

Mukwonago administrators said many students in the southeastern Wisconsin school district seem satisfied with the new "fast M" logo — a blue M with a yellow outline and serifs that suggest motion — and there's little to be gained from reopening old wounds right now.

"You'd have no trouble finding people who are still upset about that initial complaint," said Shawn McNulty, the district's superintendent. "But right now our aim is just to sit down with the Potawatomi and try to find a permanent solution."

Mukwonago translates to "place of the bear" in the Potawatomi language.

McNulty said much of Mukwonago's fight was for principle's sake. The law required schools to prove their names weren't racist, something he believes made the process inherently unfair.

"When you're accused of discrimination and you haven't discriminated, it's hard to prove your innocence," McNulty said. "But the way the system was set up, we were guilty until proven innocent."

The law was amended last month to make it harder for mascot opponents to demand a hearing. It also invalidated previous Department of Public Instruction orders forcing three schools to drop their nicknames. Petitioners must now gather signatures equal to 10 percent of a school district's student population to trigger a review.

Wisconsin was seen as a leader nationally when it passed the original school mascot law, and a handful of other states followed with similar legislation. Activists said it's unlikely those states would mimic Wisconsin in easing their regulations. Fans of the Mukwonago Indians may have won the right to keep their mascot, but the tide has turned against Native American nicknames.

That's one reason those who lost the fight in Wisconsin aren't eager to go another round.

"I think what happens now is, we have to find different ways to move forward," said Barbara Munson, a member of the Oneida tribe who chairs the Wisconsin Indian Education Association in Keshena.

Berlin and Osseo-Fairchild high schools also had been told to change nicknames.

Osseo-Fairchild High School in western Wisconsin became the Thunder in 2012. The school can now change back to Chieftains, but Bill Tourdot, the superintendent of the Osseo-Fairchild School District, isn't seeing a push for that.

"I think everyone is kind of happy to have those tough times behind us," he said. "I think people want to move on with education and not dwell on that again."

The school board at Berlin High School in northeastern Wisconsin renewed discussions about its Indians logo, but no decision has been made, according to WLUK-TV. Administrators there did not immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press.

One concern with any potential switch back is that lawmakers could reverse course again, McNulty said.

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