GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians is asking Dowagiac Union Schools to stop using “Chieftains” as its mascot.
In a Monday release, the tribe said it had sent a letter to the district rescinding a 1990 joint resolution between the tribe and school that approved the logo. The tribe pointed to a March 2021 resolution it passed in which it condemned the use of Native American imagery by non-native groups.
“It is the long-held view of the Pokagon Band … that the use of Native American-themed imagery, along with mascots, symbolism, logos, and nicknames by non-Native institutions, organizations and entities, promotes harmful stereotypes and has a detrimental effect on our Native American Youth,” the Pokagon Band Tribal Council said in a statement (PDF). “Although some view Native American-themed mascots and nicknames with reverence, Native American-themed imagery and references perpetuate harmful stereotypes of Indigenous peoples.”
The statement was in response to an Aug. 9 letter (PDF) from the Dowagiac Board of Education to Pokagon Tribal Council Chair Rebecca Richards in which the school said it “respectfully declines to change its ‘Chieftains’ logo.”
The board referenced the 1990 resolution with the tribe, noted that a member of the tribe created the image the school uses and said it has used the mascot to “facilitat(e) students’ education regarding Native American history and culture.” Dowagiac’s use of the mascot dates back to 1928 and the board said “generations of students associate their education experience with this name.” It also noted that it is not illegal to have a Native American-themed mascot — though state panels have advised against it.
The district said it wants to continue to work closely with the tribe “to ensure that the name ‘Chieftains’ receives the dignity, respect, and reverence that it deserves.” In its Monday release, the Tribe said it “remains actively committed to providing consultations to school districts including Dowagiac Union Schools … that have Native-themed logos, mascots and nicknames, that are interested in making a change.”
A number of West Michigan schools have dropped Native American-themed mascots in just the last few years — Belding in 2016, Paw Paw and Saugatuck in 2020, and Saranac and Hartford in 2021. Hartford cited its relationship with the Pokagon Band in making its decision. Grants from the Native American Heritage Fund helped pay to replace many of the the logos.
In May of this year, the last school district in Michigan still using a “Redskins” mascot, Camden-Frontier south of Hillsdale, voted to retire it.