Indian logo to be up for vote in townwide referendum

Feb 7, 2022

As controversy over the Dartmouth High Indian logo continues, voters will get to have their say at this spring’s town election.

The Select Board agreed at a Feb. 7 meeting to put the question of whether to keep the Indian logo on the ballot for April’s election as a non-binding referendum.

“Basically, the question is very simple — it’s a yes or a no,” Select Board Chair Shawn McDonald said. 

Since the referendum is non-binding, McDonald said it would act as a way for school officials to see what the public sentiment is.

“I think asking people what they think is always a good idea and this is a great way to do it,” Board Member Frank Gracie III said.

Should residents vote to keep the Indian name and logo, officials hope to find ways to better recognize the history and achievements of Native Americans and share that information with the community.

“We have an opportunity to be different than maybe anywhere in the country,” Vice Chair David Tatelbaum said. 

Talks are currently ongoing between school and tribal representatives.

The current logo, which was designed by a member of the Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah in the 1970s, has been the subject of controversy in recent years.

As national sports franchises have abandoned their Native American-themed mascots and names, civil rights organizations have repeatedly approached the school district about replacing the Indian logo.

Early last year, the Dartmouth School Committee set up an Equality and Diversity subcommittee to address the issue and make a recommendation on whether or not to keep the school’s symbol.

The state has also introduced legislation that would ban the use of any Native American mascots by public schools in Massachusetts, along with any mascot/name “which denigrates any racial, ethnic, gender, or religious group.”

If passed, the bill would create an exemption if federally recognized tribes within the boundaries of the commonwealth wanted to give “explicit consent for a school to use their particular tribal name.”

The bill currently sits before the State Senate’s Ways and Means Committee.

Opponents to the logo have argued that the use of Native Americans as mascots can damage the mental health of indigenous youth.

At an Equality and Diversity Subcommittee meeting last year, Dr. Laurel Davis-Delano, a sociologist who has studied Indian mascots for more than 25 years, said that studies found exposing indigenous youth to mascots such as the Dartmouth Indian creates stress, distress, depression, hostility and dysphoria.

The mascots also lead to Native American youth having lower self-esteem, a reduced capacity to imagine future accomplishments for themselves, and less confidence in their community’s ability to make a difference, she said. 

Meanwhile, officials from the Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah have spoken in favor of keeping the logo.

“We believe that the initial reference to the ‘Dartmouth Indians’ was meant to be emblematic of our athletic abilities and excellence, an iconic level of athletic dominance and achievement; desired, and to which the teams aspired to demonstrate,” Tribe Chair Cheryl Andrews-Maltais previously wrote. “In our opinion, that has not and should not change.”

Not all local tribes share this view.

School Committee and Equality and Diversity Subcommittee Chair Dr. Shannon Jenkins has previously said that the Pocasset Wampanoag tribe, which is not recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, opposes the use of the Dartmouth Indian.

She added that the Mashpee Wampanoag are also against the use of the logo.

Representatives from the tribes did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

With the referendum now headed on the election ballot, Tatelbaum encouraged residents to attend the Equality and Diversity subcommittee’s forum between the board and tribal representatives scheduled for March 8 so they can make an informed decision at the polls.

“I just think we need to be careful how this all plays out,” he said.