While trying to justify the removal of the Turners Falls Indians nickname, Superintendent Michael Sullivan, the Gill-Montague School Committee, and removal supporters carelessly threw around the terms “civil rights,” “discrimination,” and “racism” as if saying those words in close proximity to Indian somehow made them true. It doesn’t. But they succeeded in directing these emotionally charged words at a good town in an attempt to make it feel bad about itself. It was intellectually lazy and dishonest.
Civil Rights laws were developed to protect certain groups of people from discrimination and repression. Discrimination is the treatment in favor or against a person based on the group that person belongs to rather than individual merit. Racism is a belief that one’s own race is superior to another’s.
The burden of proving that the Indians nickname is a civil rights violation, discriminatory, or racist fell on the people who made those accusations. They, of course, did nothing of the sort because the Indians nickname is none of those things.
Previous national surveys have shown the majority of Native Americans do not even find Indian nicknames and mascots offensive let alone discriminatory or racist.
The School Committee’s decision and Superintendent Sullivan’s endorsement of it has now whitewashed part of the region’s identity. They have stripped away part of our shared heritage, our shared tradition, our shared culture. They created a rift between townsfolk where none before existed.
In a few years, Sullivan will likely move on to some other school system, his damage done. School Committee members will be voted out, replaced by new blood who honor and respect our Indian history. The Indian nickname will then be returned to Turners Falls High School and this regrettable chapter will pass. The wounds inflicted by some of our neighbors, however, will take much longer to heal.
Turners Falls Indian, ‘85