School Committee sets date for logo discussion with native tribes
Before they can make a decision on the final future of the controversial Dartmouth High Indian logo, school officials say they want input from all Native American tribes in the area.
At a Monday, Jan. 24 meeting, the Dartmouth School Committee decided to set March 8 as the date of a public meeting between the board and tribal representatives to hear their opinions on the use of the logo.
Committee Chair Dr. Shannon Jenkins said that school officials have been trying to meet with members of local tribes for months, but have faced repeated delays due to Covid, scheduling conflicts and the holiday break.
As national sports franchises have abandoned their Native American-themed mascots and states have introduced legislation to ban such logos in schools, academics and civil rights organizations have repeatedly approached the school about replacing the Indian logo.
The Dartmouth School Committee set up an Equality and Diversity subcommittee early last year to address the issue and make a recommendation on whether or not to keep the school’s mascot.
The subcommittee had planned public forums last year on the logo issue, but no such meetings were held in 2021.
Some on the School Committee worried that the subcommittee had taken too long to do its work.
“I would like to put this to bed,” said member John Nunes. “I would like to see the committee reaffirm the Indian as the school logo and if we need to consult with native tribes we can do that.”
The subcommittee, also chaired by Jenkins, has suffered scheduling delays, due in part to the busy schedules of its members.
“Chairing the diversity committee was one straw too many,” said Jenkins citing a full time job and School Committee duties to contend with. “I need help moving the process forward.”
Adding to the pressure to keep the mascot was a letter from representatives of the Gay Head Wampanoag, a nationally recognized tribe, opposing a change to the logo.
The tribe also wrote in opposition to a bill that would ban Native American mascots statewide.
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.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah wants the town to “keep [the] name and logo,’’ former Dartmouth resident Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the chair of the tribe, wrote in an email to Dartmouth Week this past summer.
Andrews-Maltais described the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah as one of only three historic and formally recognized tribes in Massachusetts.
The Aquinnah and the Mashpee Wampanoag are the only Massachusetts tribes listed as federally recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
However, neither of those tribes claims Dartmouth as its native land, Jenkins said.
The tribe that inhabited what is now Dartmouth is the Pocasset Wampanoag, according to Jenkins, who she says have been less supportive of the logo.
The Pocasset Wampanoag are not a nationally recognized tribe, but they are recognized by the Commonwealth and possess a reservation in Fall River and Freetown.
Jenkins, who has expressed her opposition to keeping the mascot, said she would not be comfortable bringing the issue to a vote without input from members of the Pocasset, Aquinnah and Mashpee Tribes, in addition to someone from the National Congress of American Indians.
“If we want to move forward without hearing from the tribe that claims Dartmouth as its native land, I think that’s a problem,” she said. “I don’t think we’re being inclusive.”
School Committee Member Kathleen Amaral echoed Jenkins’ sentiments.
“I don’t feel prepared to vote yes or no tonight,” she said.