Billboards reignite debate over Paw Paw mascot

Southwest Michigan

PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — There’s renewed debate over Paw Paw High School’s Redskins mascot after a new billboard was unveiled along I-94 Wednesday.

The billboard presents a definition of “redskin,” saying it is viewed as “very offensive.”

NativeRightsMI.org, also known as the Michigan Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, funded the billboard. Monica Washington Padula, a former Paw Paw resident who identifies as Afro-Native, is a part of the statewide group.

“Paw Paw will not get the last word in telling us who we are. They will not get the last word in telling us how history impacted us,” Washington Padula told 24 Hour News 8 over the phone Wednesday.

She explained that the new billboard was in response to one community members paid for shortly after the Paw Paw School Board voted 4-3 in February 2017 not to change the longtime mascot. The previous billboard along I-94 read “WE ARE THE PAW PAW REDSKINS” and boasted the school’s mascot logo.

“It was more taunting. It was mocking,” Washington Padula said. “It was like, ‘We know you don’t like this, but we want you to know how much we love it.’”

Hannah Gibbs graduated from Paw Paw High School in 2017. She said she couldn’t escape conversation over the mascot, whether it was students, teachers or parents discussing it.

“Certainly, I’ve heard both arguments for it. A lot of people that I hung out with didn’t really care, but plenty of people in my class, and parents, certainly thought it was offensive,” Gibbs said.

She wasn’t surprised by the new sign condemning the use of the mascot.

“I just kind of ignored it honestly,” she said.

She questions why people are fighting for her school to change but are not forcing professional teams to do the same.

“Until that point, I don’t see what the problem is,” she said.

Washington Padula said that’s why the group put up the sign and will continue to spread awareness.

“We want people to know the truth,” she said, “(and) actually know this term comes from a place of pain. It comes from a place of violence. It comes from a place of trauma.”

There are grants offered to schools and municipalities that are interested in changing indigenous logos and mascots. In July, Belding Area Schools received $334,690.60 from the Native American Heritage Fund after voting to change its mascot.

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