BELDING, Mich. (WOOD) — The images of Native Americans as savages or as sports mascots are disappearing from schools, sports stadiums and monuments.
But the cost of reversing decades of disrespect comes with a price tag, and now it is the Native American community itself that is funding the solutions.
“For our kids – and it’s really about the kids – for our kids this will help us move forward, to help us be proud of what we are now,” Brent Noskey, superintendent for Belding Area Schools.
In Belding, the school district went through a protracted and contentious public battle over the name of the schools’ mascot – the Redskins.
“This will stir the pot a little bit again, getting this money, but I want everyone to know that our community is not racist,” Noskey said hours after he was told of the award.
In December of 2016, the school board – after numerous meetings and forums – voted to drop the Redskins name.
And in March of 2017, a vote among students and the community resulted in the new mascot the Belding Black Knights.
“We still have a lot of Redskin imagery on some of our sports uniforms, our band and to change that over is a lot of cost,” Noskey said.
While, much of the Redskin imagery was being phased out, some of it was literally set in stone.
“I didn’t want to take money away from our kids and their academics to move away from a mascot piece,” the superintendent said.
The district applied for the grant and at its meeting Friday, the Native American Heritage Fund board unanimously decided to give Belding Schools $334,690.60.
That’s enough to pay for all the changes.
“He said it’s funded 100 percent – which was very exciting for us,” Noskey said
According to the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, the fund is to “be used to replace or revise mascots and imagery that may be deemed offensive to Native Americans or may convey inaccurate representations of Native American culture and values.”
This year is the first time the Native American Heritage Fund board reviewed applications and approved grants.
An amendment made in 2016 to the Tribal-State Gaming Compact between and the State of Michigan allowed for a portion of the tribe’s annual state revenue sharing payment to be deposited into the Native American Heritage Fund.
Also approved Friday was $77,000 for the city of Kalamazoo to cover some costs in the removal of the Bronson Park Fountain of the Pioneer.
The city of Battle Creek was awarded about $3,400 to replace a stained-glass window in city hall that depicted what was believed to be a settler clubbing a Native American.
24 Hour News 8 reached out to the tribal leadership but did not hear back.
The checks will be approved for disbursement next month at the board’s Aug. 10 meeting.