Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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May 6, 2013

Some see ‘redskins’ as racist, others say it’s a non-issue

GOSHEN — Here in the Maple City, the call for change is often quite soft. So while other communities and organizations throughout the country have been grappling with the Native American nickname issue, not much has been mentioned over the years in Goshen about its possibly insensitive high school nickname, the “Redskins.”

Many people simply regard the term as a unique and intimidating mascot that has become part of our community’s identity over the past nine decades.

“The Goshen Redskins is a name that has been around for an awful long time,” said Goshen City Council President Jim McKee. “The way I look at it, it’s meant to represent warriors and strength, so should be taken as a compliment.”

Richard Aguirre, who is director of communications and marketing at Goshen College, doesn’t see it as a compliment.

“It was originally devised to be a very derogatory name,” Aguirre said “… I don’t think it’s political correctness (changing the nickname). I think it’s trying to name people correctly.”

Aguirre is also a member of the Goshen Community Relations Commission, a group dedicated to foster positive, non-discriminatory relationships within the community. But while the group has tackled such hot-button topics as immigration and gay rights, it has not, Aguirre said, addressed the Redskins nickname.

“Though it wouldn’t surprise me,” he said, “if someday (we did).”

Aguirre said he understands the connection that people from Goshen have to the Redskins nickname, but that doesn’t change the fact many people regard it as a derogatory name. He thinks at some point such nicknames will have to go.

“The name will likely disappear,” Aguirre said, “but it will have to be done in a way that helps people understand how hurtful that name is to an Indian.”

Aguirre compared the “redskins” term to that of other racial slurs and said he doesn’t believe that some tribes ever endorsed the label of redskins or braves.

An advocate for change

Goshen High School alum Rich Meyer of Goshen agrees with Aguirre.

“Six out of six dictionaries will tell you ‘redskin’ is a derogatory, racist term,” Meyer said. “Native American tribes consistently oppose the use of Indian mascots unless it actually regards an Indian school.”

And of all the Indian mascot names, he said, “redskins” is the worst. Meyer said he talked to the principal and athletic director at Goshen High School approximately three or four years ago about the use of “Redskins.” School officials confirmed last week that Meyer has approached them in the past.

He was also told that the image of an Indian chief head was removed from the gym floor when it was refinished and that some sports teams have dropped “Redskins” from their uniforms.

“The question should be: Is Redskin a derogatory, racist slur?” he said. “I think the answer to that is clear. Knowing that, should we continue?”

While attending Goshen High School in the 1970s, Meyer said it did not even occur to him that the term “redskin” was derogatory because he was not aware of Native Americans as “a continuing, living social group.”

It wasn’t until his son worked on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota that it seemed more embarrassing. That sense of wrongness for those derogatory words has developed over the years as he has gotten to know people in the Lakota and Potawatomi nations.

“In Indian culture,” Meyer said, “using ‘redskin’ is the same as using (the “N” word).”

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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