Dartmouth High symbol once again under scrutiny

Jul 28, 2020

Dartmouth High School’s controversial Indian logo has once again come under scrutiny as officials, activists, and current and former students spoke out on the issue at a virtual meeting on July 28.

The conversation comes as sports teams and brands nationwide reexamine their minority representation and as bills prohibiting Native American mascots for Massachusetts public schools wend their way through the state legislature.

Last October, the Dartmouth School Committee voted 3-2 against forming a task force to hear from the community on the issue.

Dartmouth School Committee Vice Chair Dr. Shannon Jenkins stated at the meeting — which was led by the NAACP New Bedford branch — that she is personally opposed to the mascot, and was “shocked and stunned we didn’t even have a community conversation about this.”

Since the vote, she said, “things have changed maybe a little, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

“I have been told there was an agreement with a local tribe...over the use of this mascot,” she noted. “I have not been able to find any public record of such agreement.”

Jenkins suggested that the public continue to voice their concern at School Committee meetings, and said that she would try to get the item on the agenda for an upcoming meeting.

Dartmouth alumna Renee Ledbetter said that she is part Native American. “It saddens me that the Dartmouth school board doesn’t have any respect for other cultures,” she said.

North American Indian Center of Boston Executive Director Raquel Halsey stated that she was touched and infuriated by and others’ — stories. 

“Even as a cheerleader this young woman is supposed to be taking pride in her community and her peers, and she’s being forced to participate in the erasure of an entire group of people who was here before the settlers,” Halsey noted about one speaker from Dartmouth High.

“That’s the real erasure,” she added. “It’s killing our peoples...physically forcing us into residential schools, and then, at the end of the day, to turn us into a cartoon and to diminish us and our language into a simple sound that we’re expecting our children to use during a football game. And that’s something that we cannot accept any longer.”

Meanwhile Springfield College Professor of Sociology Dr. Laurel Davis-Delano, who said that she has been studying the mascot issue for over 25 years, spoke about her research on the effects that native mascots have on both native and non-native people.

According to Davis-Delano, exposure to native mascots has multiple negative effects on the mental health and wellbeing of native young people, decreasing self-esteem and increasing general stress, distress, depression, dysphoria, and hostility.

Effects of exposure to native mascots on non-native people include increased stereotyping of and a tendency to discriminate against native people, she added.

Davis-Delano noted that although underrepresentation of natives in mainstream US culture is a huge problem, misrepresentation is another big issue.

“87 percent of what’s covered in the schools is prior to 1900,” she said. “There's been a ton of things that have happened in Native American history after 1900.”

Increasing diverse and contemporary representation of native peoples will also help reduce stereotyping and misrepresentation, Davis-Delano added.

No one at the meeting spoke in favor of keeping the mascot.

The next School Committee meeting is set for August 3.