Mohawk Trail School Committee votes to remove mascot, keep ‘Warriors’ name

  • The Mohawk Trail Regional District School Committee voted to remove a mural depicting a Plains Indian on the gymnasium wall. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/9/2019 11:16:52 PM

BUCKLAND — Mohawk Trail Regional District School Committee voted Thursday to remove all vestiges of its Native American mascot although it elected to retain its team name, “Warriors.”

The School Committee also voted on a couple other measures related to the issue of Native imagery. The committee began the meeting by voting to affirm its school name, Mohawk Trail. In the final motion of five, the committee voted unanimously to urge administrators to review curricula to include more information on indigenous issues.

Chair Martha Thurber admitted that the School Committee had made some mistakes in communicating with the community on the Native American mascot matter and hoped the meeting would clear the air completely.

“Every day we let this fester in our community is a day we lose an opportunity to move forward together,” Thurber said. “No one should leave this meeting feeling that there is another shoe to drop.”


The committee voted to remove and replace the existing mural of a Native American in the school gymnasium by a measure of 74.6 percent (votes are weighted according to town size).

Many School Committee members offered a public comment, most in support of removing the mural.

Colrain representative Kate Barrows said the mural violates the school’s anti-discrimination policy.

“Removing this image is part of taking care of all the families in this district,” Barrows said.

Hawley representative Suzanne Crawford said the mural could not be practically preserved as it currently stands because of its proximity and central location in the school gym.

“It’s such a large, large painting on the wall, it really does dominate the gym,” Crawford said.

Charlemont representative Evelyn Locke noted the issue was not about “intent,” but rather, “impact.”

“I have read so much and listened so much to the Native voices; the image does harm,” Locke said. “If the people it’s supposed to honor are saying it doesn’t honor them, it needs to go.”

Shelburne representative and Mohawk alumnus Jason Cusimano said he believes the painting was donated with positive intent, yet, in his words: “times have changed.”

“Nothing we do tonight will change those memories,” Cusimano said of the school.

Shelburne representative Brad Walker pointed out that his town had voted to urge legislators to rethink the state seal and flag at its Tuesday annual meeting.

On the other hand, Hawley representative Hussain Hamdan was vocal about his support for retaining the mural, arguing that “intent does matter.”

In Hamdan’s view, “artwork is a product of its time” and should not be erased.

“The 41 years between 1978 and today are also history. Our history,” Hamdan said. “We can’t act like we never got anything wrong in our history.”

Some Committee members also offered practical ideas to preserve and honor the mural.

Buckland representative David Parrella asked the school to “preserve” the image through displaying a photograph in the school.

The School Committee then voted to remove all Native American images linked to the Mohawk Trail Regional School District.

According to Thurber, the process to remove these images has been going on for the last five, six years, however, though the prospect of removing the mural this year drew attention to the issue. And while Native images are few, some relics do remain, she said.

A short discussion ensued on the question of removing the team name, Warriors before the committee opposed the motion by a measure of 72.7 percent.

Public comments

The night began with a public comment period of more than an hour, where a dozen community members offered a myriad of opinions on the issue of Native American mascots and nicknames.

Several community members asked the committee to allow towns to vote on the matter.

“We have the authority and the responsibility to do this,” Thurber said. “It is a representative democracy and we are here as your representatives to do this.”

Jessica Bower of Charlemont said the School Committee violated the Open Meeting Law by emailing plans to change the mascot and name rather than discussing them at a public meeting.

“Yes, I am a parent — but I’m a warrior parent,” Bower said.

Rhonda Anderson, a member of an Alaskan-based tribe, pointed out that the Native American mural was conceived in a period when indigenous people were subjected to overt oppression. She noted this land did not belong to the Mohawk peoples but rather several other tribes.

“I’m here to make sure the appropriate people are heard,” Anderson said. “This is not Mohawk homelands.”

Rich Holschuh, a member of the Vermont Commission of Native American affairs, said the Mohawk tribe did not live in this area. In reality, the tribes Pocumtuk, Abenaki, Nipmuck, Nonotuk, Mahican, among others, are the original residents of this region, he said.

“I’m a real person, they are real people. They are still here,” Holschuh said. “Look around you. There are reasons we don’t see them. There are reasons we don’t know about them,” he added of this area’s original residents.

Laurel Davis-Delano, a Springfield College sociology professor who studies Native American nicknames and logos, described the negative impacts they have. The National Congress of American Indians, representing more than 250 Native Nations, opposes the use of indigenous people in mascots and logos.

“I wish to direct everyone away from the topic of opinion,” Davis-Delano said.

According to Davis-Delano, research demonstrates that Native American youth are harmed by their exposure to Native American logos. Such exposure can lead to reduced self-esteem, the inability to imagine their future, depression and distress.

“It has nothing to do with intent, it has to do with effect,” Davis-Delano said.

Kristie Faufaw of Hawley encouraged the school to incorporate Native American issues into curricula and include voices of indigenous people.

“If we are to genuinely honor the Native Americans that were here long before any of us, then we need to have a well-framed cultural study program relating to the indigenous people that were in this area,” Faufaw said. “Our students should learn about the way of the people before us, Native and settlers.”

Mohawk alumna Rebecca Stone of Halifax Vt., who said she owns property in Colrain, argued that decisions should be made by the towns rather than committee members. She warned that students may leave the district, adding that enrollment is already low.

“Do not ignore the concerns of the community,” Stone said. “I am very afraid of what will happen in the long term to this area. The high school will no longer be solvent, just like the elementary schools that are closing in the area.”

Mary Bolduc said she was a member of the first graduating class at Mohawk. She recalled leaving her local school to come to Mohawk, describing the experience as “difficult.”

“It is unfair to ask us to give up history twice,” Bolduc said. “If the Mohawk Trail was misnamed … I’m sorry if that offends somebody. That was a mistake in history … that was not a slight to anyone.”

Tom Carter, a Mohawk alumnus and Ashfield Selectboard chair, waxed nostalgic about his time at school. And while Carter supported improving the school’s Native American curricula, he raised doubts about removing imagery to avoid offending anyone.

“But this idea that the mascot, the Native American figure or even Warriors or the name of the school is offensive — I really have to feel that some people’s reality is much different than others,” Carter said. “I really think that it’s more of an imagined thing. And to be honest, to be out in the world, everybody can find a reason to be offended by anybody … What will be the next thing that they will be offended by?”

Amy Coates of Charlemont said she learned about the School Committee vote in an email sent to her son. She said while the Mohawk tribe live in New York, they have “a history here.”

Reach Grace Bird at or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.


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