Even as High School Keeps 'Indians,' Name Fades from Sight

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Copyright 2013 Journal Sentinel Inc.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin)
October 27, 2013 Sunday
Final Edition
A News; Pg. 1
1407 words
School stuck in mascot limbo | Amid battle over law, Mukwonago avoids name in gym, uniforms
BILL GLAUBER, [email protected] Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)

Mukwonago - Andy Trudell takes no chances.

No matter what happens in the debate over the use of American Indian names and mascots by schools and sports teams, Trudell, the athletic director of Mukwonago High School, covers all the bases.

Despite a state law and court ruling, the Mukwonago Area School District and the wider community have held tight to the school nickname - Indians - and logo of an Indian in a full warbonnet headdress.

Yet when the school gym was flooded two years ago, a replacement wooden floor was installed without the school's painted Indians nickname.

And last summer, when the gym walls got a new coat of paint, the slogan "This Is Indian Country" was painted over.

Trudell said, "Any time a coach comes to me and says, 'Hey we're buying new uniforms, can I put the word Indians on, (the) Indian head (logo)?' I tell them no, because I have to look out for what's best for the district and know that if we buy $3,000 worth of uniforms this year we may have to buy $3,000 to replace them next year. That doesn't make good fiscal sense."

Like a lot of people here, Trudell is waiting for a final legislative call on an issue that arouses emotion.

The Assembly approved a bill this month that would make it tougher to strip schools of American Indian names, logos and mascots. The bill is expected to be taken up by the Senate next month. Gov. Scott Walker hasn't said whether he supports the legislation. Many here are counting on the bill to be passed and signed. There appears to be widespread support here to keep Mukwonago's nickname and logo.

"I just think it should be a local issue," said Harold Cramer, a parent with two kids in the district.

According to Shawn McNulty, the Mukwonago District superintendent, "There is a strong sense of pride here in the village of Mukwonago for that Indian nickname and logo. The village name itself means home or place of the bear in Potawatomi."

Only a few local people have come forward to call on the School District to drop the fight.

"We are not teaching our children in Mukwonago to become global citizens," said Sandy Shedivy, a former teacher. "Global, multicultural citizens get along with other cultural groups."

This isn't the first time that the mascot issue has been raised in Mukwonago.

Twenty years ago, a member of the Oneida tribe who was a language pathologist at Big Bend Elementary School asked the Mukwonago School Board to stop using Indians as the school nickname. The bid was unsuccessful.

In 2010, with Democrats in control of the Legislature, then-Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill allowing residents to file a complaint with the state Department of Public Instruction over mascots and names that promote discrimination. The DPI superintendent's office could then order changes.

A Mukwonago graduate, Rain Koepke, descended from four tribes and an enrolled member of the Peoria tribe of Oklahoma, filed a complaint in July 2010. A hearing was held, and the Mukwonago School District was ordered to change the logo and nickname.

Two Mukwonago residents challenged the process. A Waukesha judge initially ruled in their favor. But the state Court of Appeals reversed the decision, saying the plaintiffs, Craig Vertz and James Schoolcraft, lacked standing to challenge the administrative hearing process.

Koepke, 22, is a senior at Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas, where students are members of federally recognized tribes. The school sports program uses the team name of Indians and has a logo of an American Indian in a headdress, but has no mascot.

Koepke said that after he filed the complaint at Mukwonago, he was subjected to abuse that included "horrible racist insults" on the Internet, including in newspaper comment sections and on Facebook.

He said his late mother had told him early in his life that the use of Indian nicknames and mascots was wrong.

"They're making fun of us, it's disrespectful," he said she told him.

Koepke said supporters of Mukwonago's nickname and logo often say that they're keeping alive Indian culture and without such items or mascots, that culture will disappear. "Excuse me, but I'm standing right here," he said. "I'm not vanishing."

"It's a paradox," he added. "They talk about honoring Indians and Indian heritage, but it's not their heritage. I don't think they have any business being anywhere near it."

The school, the name and the logo appear to be important ingredients that bind the Mukwonago district, which sprawls over 90 square miles.

Sports are very big at the high school, with more than a third of the 1, 600 students participating on athletic teams. A sports booster club raises around $30,000 annually. A new booster group is helping raise $200,000 for fitness equipment.

Generations of athletes have grown up as Mukwonago Indians. Officials say the school is respectful of American Indians. For instance, no one actually dresses up as a mascot. No one is allowed into stadiums or gyms wearing "war paint" or dressed in American Indian costumes. So-called "tomahawk chops" and "war cries" are prohibited at sporting events, the officials say.

"I would like to keep the name," said Bre Cera, 15, a sophomore. "I do not want to be anything else."

Morgan Vukovich, 18, a senior, said the mascot controversy is "ridiculous." "Mukwonago has the Indian out of respect," she said. "An Indian is a strong character."

Todd Kuzminski, an accountant whose son plays volleyball for Mukwonago, said: "No one person should be able to dictate change for an entire community."

Like many here, Kuzminski backs the bill that passed the Assembly. A key provision of the legislation would require someone who wants to file a complaint about a race-based mascot or nickname to submit signatures equal to 10% of the student population in the district. The measure also allows a district to be exempt from such complaints if a tribe approves of its nickname, logo or mascot.

The person filing the complaint would also have to prove discrimination. Hearings would be held by the state Department of Administration, instead of the Department of Public Instruction.

The previous decision against Mukwonago - which could face fines of $1,000 a day if it doesn't comply by December - would also be wiped clean. The Assembly bill would void any decisions made under the law signed by Doyle.

State Sen. Dale Schultz (RRichland Center) has offered a compromise that includes requiring the Department of Public Instruction to review all school nicknames and mascots.

Under Schultz's plan, if the department judges a name or mascot to be race-based, the issue would go before the local school boards, which would work to forge agreements with the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council.

Barbara Munson, a member of the Oneida, has worked on the issue for years. She said the current law works - three districts changed their logos, mascots or names.

"We want school districts to change," she said. "We want them to get educated. We don't want to make somebody unhappy. The point is race-based stereotypes are harmful to Indian children, to all minority children."

She said using a race-based nickname or mascot "is a cultural appropriation and a real mockery of indigenous people."

"When you get to the point where your educational professionals don't see the stereotyping as harmful, there is a problem," she said.

McNulty, the superintendent, holds fast to the view that the law should be changed.

But beyond that, he said, "what we really hope comes out of this is a permanent resolution to this."

"It has more or less become a political football," he said. "What we are hoping is that we would love to sit down with the Potawatomi and talk to them on how can we keep this Indian nickname and how can we improve the way we educate our students and the entire community on the history and the sovereignty of the Potawatomi in this entire area."

Copyright 2013, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved. (Note: This notice does not apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through wire services or other media.)

"They talk about honoring Indians and Indian heritage, but it's not their heritage. I don't think they have any business being anywhere near it." Rain Koepke, Mukwonago graduate who descended from four tribes and filed a complaint in July 2010 against the name and logo "Mukwonago has the Indian out of respect. An Indian is a strong character." Morgan Vukovich, Mukwonago senior

Copyright, 2013, Journal Sentinel, All Rights Reserved.

October 28, 2013

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