OKEMOS, Mich. —
Okemos Public School District is considering a change to its Chieftain mascot.
On Wednesday, the district held the first public meeting to get input from the community on dropping the Chieftains in favor of a new name.
"We want to ensure everyone's voices are valued in the process and really work towards making a recommendation to the board," said Okemos Superintendent John Hood.
The process of removing the previous mascot image began in 2004. By 2011, all images of Native Americans were removed from the district's logos and sports memorabilia.
“The phasing out of that silhouette like the Chieftain headdress or the Chief headdress as our logo and that actually shifted us to our new logo which is the ‘O’ with the word Chiefs through the middle of it,” Hood said.
While the logo was changed, the Chieftain name stayed. Last summer, students and alumni wrote a letter to the school board asking them to drop the name. Hood said he put together a committee of students, alumni, staff, community members, and Native Americans to review the mascot name.
On Wednesday, the discussion was in a public informational meeting allowing community members to weigh in. Speakers included students.
“These were really long conversations they took place on the evenings and as you see here this little asterisk next to the folks who left the committee," said Audrey Matusz. "People left the committee on good grounds. This is very emotional work."
Tribal Chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Aaron Payment also spoke at the meeting.
“I’m asking you to please consider the effect this has on American Indians,” Payment said.
The panel went over pros and cons they considered.
“There’s an opportunity for a new mascot and nickname that may bring the community together over time,” said student Adanya Gilmore.
The committee, who has been reviewing this for several months, said their initial recommendation is to change the name.
“Our hope for this is the district's reputation is impacted positively as a result of the work,” Gilmore said.
Payment said there are other names the district could consider using to honor indigenous people.
“I would maybe suggest changing it to Ogema, Okemos," he said. "Because chief is not a word that’s indigenous, it’s not our word."
If the name change is passed by the board of education, there will be a financial impact, but the district isn't sure how much it will cost yet.
“We’re looking at things like uniforms, our gymnasium floors, scoreboards, we’re really doing an evaluation everywhere we have our nickname Chiefs to try to put a number on that so we know what it would cost us,” Hood said.
Superintendent Hood will make a final recommendation to the board of education on May 10, with a decision to be made by the board on May 24.
Another meeting will take place on Thursday, April 15 from 7 to 8:30 P.M. Information can be found on the district's website.
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