“The mascot thing gets me really mad, Don’t think about it in terms of race. Think about it in terms of religion. Those are our religious imagery up there. Feather, the paint, the sun that’s our religious imagery. You couldn’t have a Catholic priest running around the floor with a basketball throwing communion wafers. You couldn’t have a rabbi running around.”
— Native American writer and filmmaker Sherman Alexi
Turners Falls has for too long used an entire people as a mascot for its high school sports teams. The National Congress of American Indians as well as the Society of Indian Psychologists and the American Psychological Association have all published position papers calling for the immediate cessation of all team names and mascots using native American names or imagery citing the physiological harm it does.
Opponents of the name change have been vocal recently, and their objections are characterized by three main themes:
1. The name honors Native Americans. But as you can see above, the reverse is irrefutable. It does not honor Native Americans. I know people want that to be true and some have even searched and searched until they could find a Native American who says its OK, but that is not honest, and it is not true. Millions of Natives as well as the American Psychological Association say there is no honor here, though that may be the intention. Only harm.
2. Its only a few out-of -towners complaining. This is untrue as well, A great many people feel either strongly, or more or less ambivalently, about the issue, saying “Eh, if it offends people why not change it?”
I live in Turners. I taught at the high school, I coached several sports teams and for eight years never missed a single basketball game. I coached AAU and Bay State Games and cherished the sons and daughters of Montague. My sons were three season athletes, both captains, both leading their teams to play-off berths. I want the name changed, and many people I know want the same. It’s not “them.” It’s “us.”
3. The town is proud of its name and will feel disconnected from the past if it is changed. In my mind this is the only one that carries water. Turners Falls is a strong and close community and the people are connected to their past. They are proud of their history. A young man I spoke with, a former football star, said that if they change the name. he might feel less connected; that it meant something important to him to think of himself as a Turners Indian.
But, my young friend, at what expense do you need to carry this name? Who are you willing to hurt to keep it? The thing is, the name could change to “Mud,” and the town would still, justifiably, be proud. A name change will not and cannot erase memories.
But a name change can create new memories. We could teach our young people that pride is a wonderful thing but not if it comes at the expense of someone else, some other group, some other people.
Let’s move forward in a way that honors ALL people. Let’s be proud of our ability to change and grow and welcome and include.
Let’s be proud of our capacity to love.
David Bulley lives in Turners Falls.