SAUGATUCK, Mich. — Recent changes to team mascots in the professional realm have taken recent headlines. From the now Cleveland Guardians, to the more storied change of the Washington Football Team, there’s been a reckoning in the professional sports world when it comes to perceptions of the Native American heritage.
It’s been happening at the local level too, all around the country.
In Saugatuck, the change had been playing out long before any professional teams officially took action on the issue. Formerly the Indians, last week Saugatuck Public Schools made the official transition to the new Trailblazers moniker and imagery in replacement of their decades-old mascot.
“Times change and I think this change does make it better for every student that goes to school here for years to come,” said district superintendent Dr. Tim Travis. “At the end of the day I applaud our school board for doing the right thing. This is about equity; it is important at this time.”
Although Saugatuck had been phasing out their old imagery and name for years – painting over murals on the gym wall and moving away from the image on uniforms and fields – the cost to actually design a new image and mascot and to implement curriculum changes to include more lessons on Native American history and culture was high.
But for the past four years, there’s been help available to schools and organizations who want to make updates. Under Governor Snyder, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi asked for and was approved to use a portion of casino revenue usually paid to the state for fees, to instead go to the Native American Heritage Fund. It was possible though an amendment of the Tribe’s state gaming compact between the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi and the State of Michigan.
Recipients like Saugatuck Public Schools – who received around $43,000 for their changes – can use the funding for projects that support inclusion of and education around Native American culture.
“If it creates a negative atmosphere for Native American students, that’s what we try to focus on,” said Jamie Stuck, Tribal Chair of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi. “We’re not just pointing out issues, right? we’re not just finger-pointing here, we’re actually bringing solutions to the table.”
In the past, the fund has helped Belding, Godfrey-Lee, Okemos, and Lansing Public Schools make changes to their mascots – moving them away from negative images of Native Americans to something completely new.
Even the City of Kalamazoo was awarded almost $77,000 in 2018 to help remove the Fountain of the Pioneers statue in Bronson Park that negatively depicted Native Americans.
“Having that consultation and partnership with tribes, letting them have an input as far as how our history, our culture, our background, our values, are taught, and being a part of the process,” said Stuck, “not just getting it from another point of view, actually working with the tribes to see how we’d like out history, our culture, and our heritage taught.”
“When you go way back to the beginning of this it’s about doing what’s right for students,” said Dr. Travis. “To have a culture that values the worth of every student that goes to school at Saugatuck Public Schools and is aware and cognizant of background and history and family. That’s really what this is about, ultimately. It’s nice to have a new identity, it’s nice to move forward, but it really is a celebration of doing the right things for students.”
To see the fund’s recipients over the years, click here.