My Turn: Mascot change was a good decision

  • jacoblund jacoblund

Published: 5/2/2021 3:59:42 PM

In June 2020, I came back to Pequoiag at age 31 to take refuge from the pandemic at my parents’ house. I was happy to fish in the same old lakes and thrilled to see the boom in business activity. The European name for Pequoiag is “Athol.”

I write to thank the Athol-Royalston Regional School District School Committee for retiring the Red Raiders mascot of Athol High School. I did not participate in this effort, but I am grateful to those who did.

I am Mi’kmaq Indian, from lands that have been renamed “Maine” and “Nova Scotia.” Non-Indian people always ask about our blood quantum. I am not full-blooded, as very few of our people are today, but my identity is important to me. Just as you do not need to be full-blooded Irish to be proud of being Irish, you do not need to be full-blooded Indian to be proud of being Indian.

I write to offer a few reasons why I think the mascot change was a good decision.

First, there is a common perception that all Indians look a certain way. Mascots promote a stereotyped image of how Indians look, but this is often a poor match for what the local Indians look like. Mi’kmaq do not look like Apache because the two groups come from vastly different places, just like how Greeks do not look like Norwegians.

Second, reducing Indians to being stoic warriors frames us in a way so that there is little room for us in modern society. Many of us work in nurturing and helping professions, where stoic and warlike people are not recruited. I am a teacher, not a violent person. The warrior stereotype creates barriers to where we are welcomed.

Third, depicting us as warriors helps justify colonization. The colonizers recorded us as warriors because they insisted on considering us enemies. For us, war was more of a bloody sport — we never wanted to eradicate our competitors. European diseases wiped out most of our people before conflict was possible. Frequently, massacres of unarmed Indians were recorded as heroic battles. Peaceful groups of unarmed Indians were perceived as war parties just like unarmed people of color are perceived as threats today.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Indians are killed by police at a higher rate than African Americans. When we dehumanize Indians as mascots, then we become able to dismiss subhuman treatment of Indians. If we could remember Indians as warriors, then the Europeans would have beaten us at what we were, so the colonization might have been honest.

Many news headlines frame the debate over Indian mascots as an issue of whether we should get rid of something that is “offensive.” I do not get offended by Indian mascots or Halloween costumes, but I know they promote stereotypes. Talking about people being offended promotes the violent stereotype because then people worry that we might be angry and might do something violent. Please join me in avoiding that “offensive” narrative.

Justin Salisbury lives in Athol.


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