An article published Tuesday with the headline "AHS mascot believes it may be time to change symbolism" spurred dozens of emotional responses on social media.
Anderson High School has a rich tradition in sports, and the school's teams have been known as the Indians for decades. So it's natural that some reacted strongly to the notion that there might be something wrong with using "Indians" as a mascot.
But it's important to consider what Paige McKnight, the senior who represented AHS as the Indian Maiden this school year, had to say in the Tuesday article.
“I loved being mascot, but I do understand that it may be time to switch it out,” she said, responding to news that Maine's governor had signed into law a bill prohibiting use of Native American symbols as mascots at the state's public schools.
Local Native American tribes who felt the use of such symbols was "a source of pain and anguish" had petitioned the Maine legislature and governor to pass the law.
The use of Native American names and images by professional and college sports teams have come under scrutiny in recent decades. Some, such as the Washington Redskins, have resisted pressure to change.
Others have made modifications, such as the Cleveland Indians' decision to discontinue use of the cartoonish "Chief Wahoo" image. For the first time in 70 years, the Indians took the field this spring with no trace of Chief Wahoo on their uniforms.
Here in Indiana, high schools with Native American mascots have not been immune to changing perceptions of Native American mascots. In 2015, Goshen High School changed its mascot from Redskins to Red Hawks.
At Anderson High, there are no outward signs that Native Americans object to the school's use of the Indians mascot. And it seems intuitive that the Indian mascot name is patently less offensive than the term Redskins.
Still, McKnight raised valid points in the Tuesday news article.
“Although I do fully respect and love my school, I do feel like it’s time to come to terms with the cultural appropriation of the Native American culture,” she said. “Our school was founded from an Indian man himself, but the people who are elected to be mascot are not of Native American descent. My late grandmother was a full-blooded Native American herself, and I can fully imagine the offense she would find in our mascot.”
McKnight's opinion should be heard and respected. Those who would shout her down should listen instead, and then join in an open discussion.
A school's mascot should be a source of pride but it should be inoffensive, so that all people feel welcome and comfortable in the halls of the school and at sporting events.
Should Anderson High find a new mascot?
Certainly not, but the school and its stakeholders should review the way the Indian and maiden are portrayed to assure that the deepest respect for Native Americans and their culture is exercised.