Time for change at Mohawk

Published: 4/15/2019 7:43:43 AM

The Native American imagery issue now being discussed in the Mohawk Trail Regional School District surrounds the high school gymnasium mural depicting a Plains-style Indian in feathered headdress. The painting is reminiscent of the generic Native American images displayed for commercial purposes along Route 2, also known as the Mohawk Trail.

These statues and tipis have nothing to do with the Mohawks nor the tribes who lived in this area. The road’s name itself — for which the high school and district are named — is a misnomer conceived more in the interest of auto-tourism than history.

One might consider the presence of such an image in the high school as an inaccurate but harmless bit of American popular mythology. It is, however, far from harmless.

Academic studies have shown that these depictions are psychologically detrimental to indigenous peoples. Furthermore, numerous native organizations have stated for decades that such imagery is derogatory and unappreciated.

Whether historically accurate or inaccurate, depicting Native Americans as mascots or logos is racial discrimination. Despite benign intensions, the painting is disrespectful to the people whose ancestors survived the grim chronology of disease, war and removal that punctuates Native American history; and who still live in our country today representing hundreds of distinct cultures.

When we display potent symbols such as the Confederate flag, or in this case, a caricature Indian, the displayer’s intent is of little consequence to the people who are insulted. When we appear racist it is effectively the same as being racist.

Such demonstrations may be within an American’s First Amendment rights in a private sphere but have no place in a public school where they can infringe on another American’s civil rights. This type of symbolism has the potential to also insult other minority groups and people of color in our community whose cultures are sensitive to discrimination.

The mural sends a message that is counter to the school district’s mission of ensuring and fostering an inclusive learning environment. Our public schools should be our most open institutions, teaching the value of intellectual and cultural diversity to our children. It would be unfortunate if one more student and family turned away from Mohawk because of this painting.

In a world where there is so much injustice, so much misuse of power that we cannot change, it seems such an easy thing to do, such a small gesture towards those marginalized in our society, to remove this painting.

Our public schools belong to all students, teachers, and their families — from the past, here at the present, and of the future. It is time for a change. A change in keeping with a new spirit in America which includes all voices in our society in an attempt at building a better future for all our children.

Scott Barrows is a resident of Colrain.


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