December 1999 - Christine Munson
"Recently, the forty-two schools in Wisconsin that use American Indian logos were asked to find other symbols to promote school spirit. Almost all continue to use American Indian images in blatant disregard of the wishes of every major inter-tribal organization, the NAACP and a growing number of religious organizations. The use of these images has proven harmful to children and reduces hundreds of cultures to one-dimensional stereotypes used to entertain at high school events. How is it that our society can agree to get rid of the image of "Little Black Sambo", but allow our schools to continue to use caricatures like "Chief Wahoo" or the sacred symbolism of a chief's headdress? In an age when we are teaching our children to be morally responsible and racially sensitive, we cannot continue to let this form of institutional racism be a matter of choice."
What the hell are you talking about? Well, let me explain...
Sheku. My name is Christine Munson. I am a member of the Onedia Nation of Wisconsin and serve as co-chair, along with Alicia Gibb, of the Youth "Indian" Mascot and Logo Task Force. The Youth Task Force is dedicated to the elimination of "Indian" Mascots and Logos from Wisconsin public schools through educational and advocacy initiatives. Simply put, racial stereotypes have no place in public schools. Since anything and everything that occurs in schools is part of the learning process, it is especially important to be sure we are not teaching our children how to stereotype a group of people.
In 1997, myself and other Wisconsin students, had the opportunity to present the mascot issue at the National Indian Education Association conference in Tacoma, Washington. At that meeting, we highlighted the situation in Wisconsin and spoke with people who were addressing the same concerns in their communities, all around the nation. During the conference, the need for a coalition of young people dealing with this issue became obvious. The Youth "Indian" Mascot and Logo Task Force was initiated under the direction of Travis Moessner, a student at Menomonie High School (not to be confused with the Menominee Indian School District, also found in Wisconsin). The Task Force held its organizational meeting in July of 1998. Still in its initial stages, the Task Force has gained membership from high school and college students throughout the state.
Currently, the Task Force is chaired by Alicia Gibb, former student of Menomonie High School and now a student at the University of Milwaukee; and myself, graduate of Mosinee High School and now employed by the College of Menominee Nation. Both Alicia and myself attended high schools named the Indians with logos of a Plains Indian warrior. Although our specific experiences are different, we both recognize common ties that lay between our two communities, and others that continue to use "Indian" mascots and logos. We use the Task Force to link students dealing with the mascot and logo issue around the state by providing educational materials; updating the status of various initiatives at the local, regional, and state levels; and most importantly, understanding. The feelings of anger, hurt, devastation and oppression are well understood by members of the Task Force, but we also carry with us hope, an undying desire to educate those around us, and dedication to eliminate racism from the public schools in Wisconsin. Overall, the Task Force serves as a focused outlet for students of all ages to get involved in the advocacy of a human rights issue. We are about education, political action, and standing up for what we believe in.
Perhaps you are wondering what the big deal is! Why aren't the Indians honored by this... that's what it was meant to do in the first place.
Granted, in many instances these logos and nicknames were meant to honor "Indians"... that is not the issue. The fact is, in the state of Wisconsin and across the nation, leaders of these sovereign nations and "Indian" educators have spoken... Native people are not honored by these symbols. Resolutions have been written by such organizations, along with the NAACP, and numerous religious groups. It is not honorable to use images of sacred objects, such as the drum, eagle feathers, face painting, and traditional dress, in a game... to promote school spirit. If school districts truly wish to honor their "Indian" relatives, they can start by listening and respecting our wishes.
Wait a second. This is all fine and dandy, but aren't there more important things you could be spending your time on. What about alcohol and drug abuse among "Indians", unemployment, poverty, and high suicide rates?
You are correct when you say there are many other issues facing "Indian" country. However, I am only one person, 25 years of age, and this is where my experiences have taken me. I went to school in Mosinee, Wisconsin, a small town where there was a lot of misunderstandings about "Indian" people and racism ran rampant. Yet, they were (and still are) called the Indians and had the profile of a plains Indian warrior as a logo. My one and only physical fight was over me being Oneida and another student calling me a stupid Indian. In high school, I did speeches on Native issues in the state. At that time there was a lot of controversy over the Annishinabeg exercising their Treaty Rights to spear fish. I tried to educate my peers and my teachers on the issues, while hearing comments like, "Spear a pregnant squaw and save two walleye!" and "Timber niggers!" During the week, people would be protesting the spear fishing, firing gun shots at boat landings, hollering racial slurs, yet, by Friday night the community would gather at the football game to cheer for THE INDIANS, THE MIGHTY, MIGHTY INDIANS! Talk about hypocrisy.
When I was a senior (1992), my principal made a statement on the local news that there were no problems at Mosinee High School with their Indian mascot. That's when I made the jump from speeches and papers in the classroom to political action. It started with a letter to my principal explaining what it was like for a real, live "Indian" to walk the halls of Mosinee High... how my stomach turned when I had to walk under the arch that had "Welcome to Indian Country" painted on it... how I was one of their authentic "Indians" but never felt honored to be there. The issue was not addressed to my knowledge until the following year. At that time I was attending University of Wisconsin Green Bay. I would attend Mosinee school board meetings and speak of my experiences and write board members. I also started contacting representatives from the 11 tribes in Wisconsin, asking for their support.
While at UWGB, I realized I was not the only person affected by this issue. That was comforting, and it made taking a stand that much easier. There was an education forum held in Mosinee for all school districts with "Indian" mascots or logos at which I spoke. My family also filed a discrimination suit against the Mosinee school district, where the final decision was not in our favor. I was clear that to rid Wisconsin of its "Indian" mascots and logos, changes would have to be made in state law. We began working with people in the state government and providing testimony for public hearings on this issue at the state level.
Currently in Wisconsin, there is Senate Bill 217 awaiting a public hearing that would make it easier for a person to file a complaint in their school district if they had an ethnic mascot or nickname. The Youth Task Force organized a rally on the day the bill was introduced. At the rally, we honored the school districts that had removed their "Indian" mascots and logos. For each school that changed, there was a "Rose of Respect" made for them and placed on a board and a certificate from the Youth Task Force was presented to them. In response to the bill, members of the Youth Task Force (namely Aaron Ohlmann, Clif Morton, and Eileen Houle) created a public service announcement to educate and inform citizens of Wisconsin about the issue before the public hearing. The PSA transcript is the quotation at the beginning of this statement.
Right now, there are 41 schools districts in the state of Wisconsin that continue to use "Indian" mascots and logos. The Youth Task Force will stay in existence and continue to grow in strength until all of these racist images are removed from the schools.
So, here I am today, named a Freedom Fighter by Rage Against the Machine. I consider that an honor. My efforts, and the efforts of the Youth "Indian" Mascot and Logo Task Force have been acknowledged and revered as admirable. Yaw^ko (thank you) to RATM.
And YOU! You made it through a snap shot of my life. Now I ask, what will you do with the stories I have shared? Is this an issue you would like to learn more about? If so, please visit the links below. Are there other issues of social injustice or political activism you have first hand knowledge of? What are you going to do to make the world a just place to live and grow in? I hope I provided some avenues to follow that may assist you... write letters to members of your local and state government, attend public hearings and provide testimony, find others who feel as you do and support one another, or organize a rally. But, remember that you are educating people whenever you voice your mind... so be responsible and knowledgeable, and most importantly, whatever you do, do it with a good mind and a good spirit.
Peace and thanks
4104 North 6th Street
Wausau, WI 54403
Christine Munson ([email protected])
Alicia Gibb ([email protected]
Chris and the Taskforce's other co-chair, Alicia Gibb at a rally at Wisconsin's Capitol to celebrate the introduction of legislation that would help eliminate ethnic mascots & logos.
Chris was asked to speak at TRIBES 2000 in Washington DC
Chris and her mother, Barbara Munson. Barb is the chair and founder of the WIEA "Indian" Mascot & Logo Taskforce.