EMMETT CHARTER TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — As students and staff head back to school, some will return to districts with new nicknames, changed from those that were considered derogatory toward Native Americans.

With those identity overhauls still ongoing, a fund is giving them a financial helping hand.

On Friday, the Native American Heritage Fund awarded nearly $480,000 to six Michigan educational institutions for ongoing projects that honor Native American culture and area history, including mascot changeovers.

One of them includes Saranac Community Schools, whose district — now known as the Red Hawks — received more than $139,000.

“Uniform changes, facility changes, some rebranding,” said superintendent Jason Smith. “We had students in the building (Thursday) that were pretty excited, as they’re officially the first Red Hawks. So, that was very emotional for a lot of staff members and very satisfying for them.”

Following Saranac and Sandusky’s retirements of the ‘Redskins’ name, Camden-Frontier remains the only district in the state of Michigan to use it as their mascot, as of the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

About $132,000 is going to Hartford Community Schools, where its students went with the alliterate ‘Huskies’ to replace its longtime ‘Indians’ name. Superintendent Brad Geesaman said an identity overhaul like this doesn’t happen overnight, but added the money is a big help, accounting for 35% of the necessary costs.

“With that process, it’s helped us expedite the ordering, getting things in right away, so that we can try to be ready for the first day of school of having all the native imagery taken down and the new mascot of the Hartford Huskies being displayed throughout our district,” Geesaman said.

Rebranding or rebuilding any curriculum pertaining to Native American history and culture is also the intent from Hartford and Saranac’s districts, with HCS looking “to foster more meaningful connections amongst students” with it.

  • The Native American Heritage Fund announces grants to Hartford and Saranac schools to change their mascots in a ceremony at FireKeepers Casino near Battle Creek. (Aug. 19, 2022)
  • The Native American Heritage Fund grants Hartford Public Schools money to support a change of its mascot. (Aug. 19, 2022)
  • The Native American Heritage Fund grants Saranac Community Schools money to support a change of its mascot. (Aug. 19, 2022)
  • The Native American Heritage Fund grants Hartford Public Schools money to support a change of its mascot. (Aug. 19, 2022)

Heritage Fund chair, Jamie Stucks, said the money will help turn the page for these districts.

“We’re not here just to point out the issues. We’re here to provide the solutions. Providing this funding through the Native American Heritage Fund shows how much passion we have in being a part of that solution,” Stucks said.

Stuck also clarified Chippewa Hills is keeping the ‘Warriors’ name but change its imagery to resemble more of a Golden Knight.

Money is also heading to the Michigan College Access Network and Western Michigan University’s Native American Affairs Council to help fund completion coaches and a live-streamed conversation event, respectively.

Toward mid-Michigan, the Lansing School District will receive $87,500 from the fund to rebrand Sexton High School’s nickname from the Big Reds. While they have yet to announce the new mascot, the high school’s athletic director told attendees that “there’s never a wrong time to do the right thing.”

The full list of recipients can be found here.