School Board in Minnesota Considers Mascot Change

Tabatha Wethal Headshot

A community in Minnesota is considering changing its local mascot away from an Alaska native Inuit name. 

The school board in Esko heard a request from a parent at a meeting last week to change the mascot from the "Eskomos," the Pine Journal reported

Rachel Gilbertson told the board she was bringing the issue to them after having conversations with school officials, Minnesota State High School League representatives and more.

The district's team name "Eskomos" and mascot image of an igloo are based and linked to the term "Eskimo."

"This label and image perpetuates harmful stereotypes of Inuit people," Gilbertson said, as reported by the Pine Journal.

The first Esko sports teams in the 1920s had “Lincoln” on the front of their sports jerseys, the newspaper reported, citing a local book, "Esko’s Corner, An Illustrated History of Esko and Thomson Township." Lincoln is the name of the high school in the Esko School District.

In the 1940s, the name was changed to the Esko-Mos and later shortened to Eskomos, according to the book.

Gilbertson said that while she thinks that the current name is a fun play on words, she thinks that it would be best to change the name to something more appropriate. She said not discussing the issue would be "a missed opportunity." 

Gilbertson added that looking into the name change would align with the district's current sportsmanship initiative that focuses on behavior, shared values and acting with respect and integrity.

"How we show up and represent the school on what we wear to sports games and school events directly ties into the culture of respect," she said.

The topic last came before the school board in 2020, the Pine Journal reported. Petitions were created to both keep and change the district's mascot.

Superintendent Aaron Fischer said when the topic was brought up in 2020, it did not garner much conversation from the public at the school board level.

While Gilbertson requested the board bring the issue to its April meeting, both Fischer and board chair Jerry Frederick said it will be an ongoing topic of conversation. Fischer clarified that he is unsure if it will come up at the next school board meeting, but said it will come up at a future meeting.

If legislation were passed requiring a name change or for officials to study into the name, the district would act immediately — like it did when implementing COVID-19 policies.

Currently, SF584 , a bill that would address the issue, has been introduced to the Minnesota Senate Education and Policy Committee. The proposed legislation reads that a "school district may not have or adopt a name, symbol, or image that depicts or refers to an American Indian Tribe, individual, custom, or tradition to be used as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead, or team name of the district or school within the district." Exemptions would be allowed if a school district submitted a request in writing to the Tribal Nations Education Committee and Indian Affairs Council.

Gilbertson said she believes Esko can do better by being proactive rather than waiting for legislation.

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