School Committee retires Athol High School’s ‘Red Raider’ mascot

  • The Red Raider mascot is displayed on the Athol High School building. STAFF PHOTO/GREG VINE

  • The Athol Royalston Regional School Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to discontinue the Red Raider as the mascot for Athol High School sports teams. STAFF PHOTO/GREG VINE

For The Recorder
Published: 11/8/2020 2:43:37 PM

ATHOL — None of the eight community members who spoke at a special remote meeting of the Athol Royalston Regional School District School Committee Thursday night urged committee members to retain the cartoonish, tomahawk- and spear-wielding caricature of a Native American as the symbol of the district’s athletic teams. Instead, each urged the committee to dump the mascot, which several referred to as disrespectful, embarrassing and racially insensitive.

The committee obliged and voted unanimously to discontinue use of the mascot and launch an effort to replace it. The vote was 8-0, with two committee members absent.

Athol Royalston Regional School District is among others in the region who have dropped using Native Americans as a mascot, including Frontier Regional School, Turners Falls High School and most recently, Mohawk Trail Regional School.

The meeting began with an appeal by eight Native Americans from around Massachusetts.

Faries (Strong Medicine) Gray, tribal historian of the Massachusetts Tribe at Ponkapoag, disputed the argument that the use of Native American mascots is meant to honor Indigenous people.

“After nearly 400 years of destruction and exploiting us,” he said, “they say they want to show us honor and use us as a representative of our schools. We look at that as our invaders now using us as their trophies: ‘Look what we have conquered. We have conquered the wild savage.’

“Just like the Red Raiders. Calling us raiders? Calling us red? There is no other race that would accept that or tolerate it,” he continued.

“Using Indigenous people as mascots is dehumanizing,” added Brittney Walley, a representative of the Nipmuc Tribe. “My sincerest belief is that the use of Indigenous people as mascots should already be a non-issue. Native mascots depict native people, so those are the voices that should be listened to, and those are the only voices that need to be listened to on this topic.

“It’s frustrating to know that countless tribal members before me have already made it abundantly clear that this is unacceptable, and yet the issue has not been resolved,” Walley continued. “The people who have come before me have had their dignity, authority and sovereignty ignored. It reflects that we, as Indigenous people, are denied respect and empathy.”

“To be debased because of these mascots, it’s not good,” said Penny Gamble-Williams, spiritual leader and Tribal Council member of the Chappaquiddick Tribe of the Wampanoag Nation. “We’re in 2020, and we’re still talking about things like this. We really need to re-examine who we are as people and understand the importance of being serious about making the decision to get rid of these racist mascots. When people make light of offensive mascots, they become insensitive to the very issues that are affecting Indigenous people.”

Ethan Bremner, a 1998 graduate of Athol High School, said continued use of the Red Raider mascot affects his perception of the school and weakens his pride in the institution.

“The fact that this logo and mascot still hangs over the school in 2020 remains a source of embarrassment for me,” he said. “I want to be proud of where I come from. I want to be able to proudly tell people I come from Athol. I want to elevate the discussion of Athol and its schools beyond the dark racist symbol that it has chosen to market itself.”

Several speakers, including Maile Shoule, a member of the Athol High School Mascot Community Task Force, and Royalston resident Ruth Suyenaga, wanted to see the mascot discontinued, but urged the committee to first take the time to educate the community about the need for such a move.

School Committee Chair Lee Chauvette read from a letter sent to the panel by Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski.

“I encourage you to retire the existing mascot and logo,” read Suhoski’s correspondence, “and then harness the passion of folks commenting on the issue to determine the next. Moving past this debate will allow the current generation of students to create their own enduring memories. The alumni will always have theirs.”

School Committee member Carla Rabinowitz agreed with Shoule and Suyenaga that a decision to retire the mascot should be delayed until a public education effort had been mounted, but fellow committee member William Chiasson disagreed and made a motion to “retire the caricature and the mascot of Athol High School.”

“There’s a lot of nastiness and a lot of hatred toward this whole entire process out there that, quite frankly, I’m sick of and I want to see it end,” said Chauvette. “I think it all starts with this committee not doing the easy thing but doing the right thing.”

Chauvette admitted he was one of those who opposed an attempt to remove the Red Raider symbol from the high school in the late 1990s.

“Obviously, I was younger and not so wise, but now is the time to do the right thing.”

Efforts to replace the now-former mascot with a new one will soon begin.

“I think it’s critical that Athol High School students have a pathway to suggest and to be included in those discussions,” Chauvette said. “I think it’s very critical to the high school atmosphere and experience that they be involved.”


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