Paige Risser is director of communications for the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi. She said the nickname issue can be complicated, but that ‘redskins’ is the one that raises eyebrows the highest.
“It’s a wide spectrum of opinions in talking about the mascot (issue),” Risser said. “... Of the many iterations, ‘redskins’ is … the one that draws the most attention.”
It’s a discussion the Pokagon are having among themselves in direct response to a complaint filed in February by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights against 35 schools. The department is asking the U.S. Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights to issue an order prohibiting the continued use of Native American mascots.
The Pokagon are not a party to the complaint, Risser said.
“At this point the tribe is talking internally with citizens to decide and see what their concerns and opinions are,” she said. “We are just in the process of coming together as a community to talk about this issue and what the many opinions might be.”
There is no official tribe response yet.
Risser said the mascot/nickname issue comes to the forefront every once in a while. It reignited again with the Michigan lawsuit and also with national pleas for the NFL’s Washington Redskins’ franchise to change its name.
Three of the Michigan school districts named in the complaint lie within the Pokagon district: Paw Paw (Redskins), Hartford (Indians) and Dowagiac (Chieftans).
“What’s different about this (complaint) is it’s not just about whether people think it’s offensive,” Risser said, “It’s about harm to native children — whether a mascot can harm a child’s development in school.”
But before the Pokagon give their opinion they want to “take the pulse” of their community, she iterated.
Pulse of Goshen
According to Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, a 1967 GHS grad, the name change issue is not one that is particularly new to Goshen, though it is one that many in Goshen politics both past and present have been reluctant to address due to its sensitive nature.
“This comes around every so many years, and nobody really wants to seriously address it,” Kauffman said. “I understand people who have a concern about these ethnic portrayals or slurs. I get that. But when it comes down to local politics and elected officials getting involved in whether we should be the Goshen High School Redskins or not, I don’t think you’ll find a whole lot of council members or the mayor interested in leading that charge.”
Should at some point the argument come to the City Council with a strong backing from the community, Kauffman said he would not oppose hearing an argument for a name change, though he added that without such a large, grassroots campaign behind it, he sees it as unlikely that the council would elect to pursue such a case on its own.
“I’m not married to the name Redskin, but I was never in sports,” Kauffman said. “I was in band, and maybe the kids who played on the football team or the basketball team, it might have a bigger emotional connection to them than it would to me. So I understand the issue.
Jeremy Stutsman, a Goshen City Council member and fellow GHS grad from the 1990s, took a similar stance to Kauffman’s.
“I’m kind of indifferent on the issue,” Stutsman said. “I don’t think it would be awful to change it. The way I look at it, we’ve named our teams after a group, and to me that’s a sign of respect. But I could understand how it might seem offensive if I was actually a member of that group. So I can see both sides.”
Stutsman said that should a loud enough cry for change come before the council from the community, he would not be opposed to looking at the issue, though likely not before.
“I guess if it was that big a deal, and people were feeling bad, that’s definitely something we should look at,” Stutsman said. “Also, if the school board and administration at some point down the line decide that’s a change they need to make, I fully support Goshen Schools, so if that’s something they feel is important, I would totally back them on that.”
As for Council President Jim McKee, “Redskins” seem just fine with him.
“I think it should be left alone,” McKee said. “I think there are plenty more important things that we should be dealing with right now. For me it really is a non-issue.”