PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — It was a packed house Wednesday at a special meeting of the Paw Paw school board to discuss a proposal to change the district’s controversial Redskins mascot.
The roundtable discussion at Paw Paw High School was the first of two special meetings to talk about the Redskins name. In addition to the community members, representatives from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights were in attendance.
A tribal liaison spoke in front of the attendees about the potential impact Native American mascots can have long-term.
The debate over the mascot has been ongoing for years and people on both sides are passionate about their cause.
People arriving at the school for the meeting were greeted by a banner that read, “We are the Paw Paw Redskins,” dangling over a semi-truck trailer.
“I’ve always told my kids stand up for what you believe in. Go big or stay home. And we wanted the people of Paw Paw to say, hey, they truly believe with all their hearts that we are the Paw Paw Redskins and we’re not going to back down,” said Kim Jones, who organized the sign.
She said the mascot is not derogatory.
“We have never been disrespectful about it. We embrace in this community, the Paw Paw Redskins. We embrace them and we’re family, we’re all a big family,” she said.
“It definitely shows the ways that Native Americans are invisibilized and basically erased from having the sovereignty to their identity and to things that initially belonged to them and still belonged to them, so it’s just asking to return what’s rightfully ours,” said Monica Padula, who is advocating for changing the name.
Padula has native ancestry and says the mascot is an example of cultural appropriation, which means using or incorporating elements from a culture with which you don’t identify.
“Things like the ceremonial headdress, using things like paint. Things are really taken out of context when they’re used for sports and also when they’re used by children and these are things that are very inappropriate and disrespectful,” Padula said.
“I don’t want to see my culture reduced to clip art,” another person opposed to name argued during the meeting.
The second meeting to discuss the issue is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 18 at the high school.
The school board is expected to vote on whether to keep the mascot in February.