Dartmouth Indian name and symbol are here to stay, for now

Oct 29, 2019

The Dartmouth Indian is here to stay, at least as far as the Dartmouth School Committee is concerned. 

At its October 28 meeting, the committee decided against taking any action to preemptively change the school’s Indian head symbol or name.

The discussion was brought to the committee in response to two bills making their way through the state legislature which would ban the use of Native American mascots in public schools. 

The bills, House bill H. 443 and Senate bill S. 247, would require a total of 40 school districts in Massachusetts to change their mascots. The bill is currently in committee, with a February 2020 deadline on a decision to advance it. 

Locally, Dartmouth residents and advocacy groups had reached out to the School Committee with concerns about the Dartmouth Indian name and symbol. Residents and groups spoke out at the meeting prior to the committee discussing the issue. 

LaSella Hall, President of the NAACP New Bedford chapter, said the organization endorses the Massachusetts bills, and Hall urged the committee to form a task force made up of Dartmouth community members and native groups and organizations to hear from the community about the symbol and the future direction of the Indians. 

“Appropriation of Native American identity is a moral discussion communities ought to have,” Hall said. “The issue is how safe and included Dartmouth students of color really are.” 

Megan Page, of the Pocasset Wampanoag tribe, said she and her tribe were there to ask for an open discussion on the issue. 

“We’re just asking to have an open discussion so we can really find out people’s feelings,” Page said. 

Chris Pereira, a former School Committee member, spoke in favor of keeping the Indians logo. He said he had been in contact with the person who developed the original logo and representatives from the Wampanoag tribe. 

“We want to establish a partnership with the town and schools to help educate future generations of the tribe and logo,” Pereira said. “Don’t change it, or even establish a committee to do so.” 

School Committee member Shannon Jenkins spoke in favor of establishing a working committee to look into the issue further. She said she had not found any evidence to support the notion that the Wampanoag tribe and School Department collaborated on the original design of the logo. 

“To me, that does not represent an opportunity for local tribes to have a say in this matter,” Jenkins said. “And I think it’s important that if we think this is a sign of respect, that we listen to local tribes about what they think of this issue.” 

She added that she would also support getting rid of the logo altogether if necessary. 

Carol Karafotis said she also wanted to hear more input from everyone before making a decision. 

“I just want to be fair to everybody, and maybe that makes me a little wishy washy, but I just want to make sure we make the right decision.” 

School Committee members Chris Oliver, John Nunes, and Kathleen Amaral opposed forming a committee. 

Nunes said he felt the committee — and the state — have bigger issues to worry about, while Oliver said the logo was designed decades ago by tribal members, is historically accurate, and respectful of history, and should be maintained. He did add that he supports having an open dialogue with tribal members. Amaral said she would not support creating a committee without seeing how the state bills progress. 

“I am extremely disappointed that we’re not going to be able to hear from our tribal members,” Jenkins said immediately following the decision.

With no committee being formed, Superintendent Bonny Gifford said the issue will likely not come up again unless the state bills force a change.