SAUGATUCK, Mich. (WOOD) — Students at Saugatuck Public Schools will soon bid farewell to their current nickname, ‘the Indians.’ The SPS school board voted unanimously to retire the name Monday night.
Superintendent Tim Travis says the district held a public forum 10 years ago regarding a name change. Travis says at the time, the district decided not to change the name. He says the conversation has been ongoing since then.
“It’s been ongoing for Native American and Indigenous people for decades now. The district would get requests from Native Americans, in the district and outside of the district, trying to listen to those voices and be respectful,” Travis said.
Travis says since the forum, the district has strategically phased out the name and symbols, removing it from jerseys, football fields and most school buildings.
“We don’t dress up as Native Americans. We try not to appropriate any Native American culture. We’ve been very conscientious of that over the last decade,” he said.
There is still a painting in the high school gym of the school’s now former mascot. The painting depicts an Indigenous man in a traditional headdress. There’s also a sign that reads, “Home of the Indians.” The superintendent says the painting was originally done in 1976 by a student.
The district says they hope to partner with the original artist, John Fox, to paint over it.
“I think as times change, people become more aware, more sensitive,” Travis said. “And as an educational institution, we become better able to be more inclusive, to understand more about racial equity and do a better job teaching around the actual traditions of Indigenous people.”
The district is currently putting together a committee of students and faculty to come up with a new name. They say they want Indigenous families and students to know they’re a respected and important part of Saugatuck.
“We want to have young men and women graduate from Saugatuck High School, after going through Saugatuck Public Schools, to be well informed, to have big hearts and be community-minded and to understand as much diversity as they can,” Travis said.
The district says they hope to have a new name selected by the end of the calendar year. They say they want to pick a name that is unique and has ties to the community’s history.