OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — An effort is underway to change the mascot of Shawnee Mission North High School. When it first opened 98 years ago, the school district chose Indians for the high school’s mascot. But now, a group of current and former students are making efforts to no longer use this mascot and get a new one.
“This is something I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable with – or very uncomfortable with, depending on the time in my life,” said Amy Hastings.
Hastings started this movement to change the mascot with a petition on Change.org. Thousands of people have already signed it in support.
“I don’t think that the Indian mascot is the right way to honor and respect the past,” Hastings continued. “This is the right time to do it. I think if we don’t do it now, I don’t know if it will ever change.”
Hastings reached out to Chief Glenna Wallace of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma to get her blessing on this cause. Back in 2017, Chief Wallace wrote a letter to the Shawnee Mission School Board asking them to no longer allow North to use the Indian mascot. The Board did not change it then, but Hastings hopes they might change it now.
“(Chief Wallace) actually educated me a lot. She said that the mascot Shawnee Mission North portrays is actually not even a Shawnee tribe member. It’s a Great Plains Native American which, of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. But we are not portraying the people we’re supposed to be honoring.”
Hastings says some alumni against this effort have lashed out, arguing the Indian mascot is not racist and honors the Shawnee tribe. But multiple academic studies show using Native American mascots has a negative impact and causes lower self esteem among the Native American people.
“In 1922, it was socially acceptable to have an Indian as a mascot,” said Hananeel Morinville, a Shawnee Mission North senior, “but nearly 100 years later, we can’t continue moving forward with racism. There comes a time when even if people aren’t ready for the change, you still have to push it onto them.”
“There are many ways to pay homage and respect to Native Americans that don’t involve using their entire ethnicity as a stereotype in a derogatory form,” said Glory Obi, a Shawnee Mission North senior. “Right now, a lot of Native Americans face civil rights issues in our country, and I think this is just another way that impedes them from making progress.”
Morinville and Obi want the district to offer a course in Native American history to better understand this culture. They also say students will often wear a headdress at pep rallies and, while they try to do it tastefully, it still feels wrong to them.
“The students don’t really mean harm by it,” said Obi. “It’s not something that is purposely trying to be derogatory, but it’s just something that is. I think it’s time for us to call it out for what it is and just stop it.”
A spokesman for the Shawnee Mission School District said they are aware of this effort to change the Shawnee Mission North mascot and “once the year gets going (whatever that might look like) I would expect this issue to come up, and for the school to come up with a process for engaging all members of the community in examining this issue.”
In the meantime, this group is asking Shawnee Mission North to refrain from buying any more Indian merchandise and save that money for now, since it will be needed if the school decides to change their mascot.