Tales and Foot-dragging from the Dartmouth School Committee

By | August 10, 2020

Three Massachusetts school districts retired their Native American mascots last week.

But Dartmouth was not one of them.

On August 5th Barnstable School Committee member Kathy Bent described her town’s decision: “I think it is time to retire the Red Raider as our mascot” she said. “We can take our time coming up with a new mascot, but that certainly should not be a decision we make as a school committee, but one that the community makes.”

That same day Hanover Schools retired its “Indian.” Libby Corbo, a member of Hanover’s School Committee said, “My opinion as a white person as to whether the sacred symbol of Native American heritage is offensive or not frankly doesn’t matter,” said Corbo. “I think the days of the white majority telling minorities what is best for them or how they should feel… it needs to end today with our voice saying this is no longer acceptable in our community.”

Hanover’s decision had been informed by a virtual public meeting on July 29th at which Indigenous people, including a Hanover Middle School teacher, explained why their Indian mascot was so offensive.

Again on the same day, North Quincy announced a new mascot would replace “Yakoo,” a racist depiction of a Native American which North Quincy’s School Committee had retired the previous Monday. The team name, like Barnstable’s, is the “Red Raiders,” but no decision has been announced on a name change.

In June, while opponents of racist mascots were still gaining steam, Faries Gray, sagamore (war chief) of the Massachusett tribe, explained: “These mascots create such a negative environment for the indigenous [people], it is ridiculous that we even have to have a discussion about why this is a racist thing. That is not our culture. It is really disrespectful to us.”

Ridiculous though it may be, Dartmouth school board members would like this whole issue to just magically disappear. This time around they have decided to hand off their hot potato —apparently it’s not a human rights or moral issue — to a yet-to-be-named “diversity committee” that will consider the mascot and an anti-racism resolution being voted on by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. And report back. At some unspecified date in the future.

Last October 2019 the Dartmouth School Committee fended off demands to bring the issue of the mascot before a community hearing, promoting an account of how the present-day mascot had been designed by Native American students. In this tale, the logo the children designed is still used today. Also in this tale, Native Americans approve of how delicately Dartmouth White People have “honored” and “respected” their heritage..

Problem is, last November the Standard Times asked Bonnie Gifford, the school superintendent, if she had actually spoken with any Native Americans lately. Nope, was the answer. “We have never had any response from anyone from the tribes,” she told a reporter by email.

But Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, of the Aquinnah tribe, somehow managed to take questions from reporter Jennette Barnes of the Standard Times, noting that, although she helped redesign the Dartmouth “Indian” image as a teenager, years later she believes there should be a public discussion of its use.

The Standard Times also managed to ring up Chief George Spring Buffalo of the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation, who told the same reporter that the Dartmouth mascot issue should have been dealt with years ago. “It’s all about cultural respect, so children who go to your school don’t have to feel like they are cartoon characters when it comes to Halloween or Thanksgiving.”

With the Washington Redskins, Aunt Jemima, Land o’ Lakes, and Uncle Ben all scrapping their racist images, and legislation to ban school mascots gaining traction, it would seem to be a good time to reconsider Dartmouth’s racist mascot. But the Dartmouth Schools — which had plenty of time to plan, and plenty of cash to fund, a $1.8 million football stadium upgrade last Fall — simply decided to punt the issue to a committee for, ahem, “study.”

Their “diversity committee,” which will include two members of the School Committee, two faculty members, two students, two community members, and two administrators, will now consider both the mascot and a racism referendum. All members of the committee must be Dartmouth residents. And committee member John Nunes made a special point of mentioning that he didn’t want any members from New Bedford.

Ironically, the “Dartmouth only” rule will exclude the very student who designed one of the Dartmouth images — because she now lives on tribal lands outside Dartmouth. And with virtually no Native American students in any of the Dartmouth schools, this is one more pesky constituency the School Committee doesn’t have to listen to.

As one Dartmouth resident who was disappointed with the School Committee’s decision to block public comment last Fall put it succinctly: “Ah, the SouthCoast region of Massachusetts, where we take pride in our ignorance.”

Some of that ignorance is still to be found in the District’s curriculum. It is fortunate that diversity curriculum is on the way because at least one lesson plan on the DPS website is guaranteed to insult Native American children. The objective of “Rate the Colony” is to attract more European settlers to your 18th Century colony (many of which were operated with slaves). The exercise actually describes Indians as a potential danger to one’s health and the entire colonial enterprise. So much for honor and respect.

The account of how today’s “respectful” mascot came into existence, repeated on occasion by a couple of committee members, has never been adequately fact-checked. In this slippery tale, two children design a logo used to this very day and they continue to support its use, and a majority of local Native Americans concurs.

But we now know that the children have changed their views and most Massachusetts tribes are opposed to the mascot — thanks to a piece in the Standard Times. And a search on Dartmouth High yearbook covers debunks the rest of the tale by showing that the design the children created was actually scrapped — only to be replaced with one that Dartmouth College abandoned in 1974 because so many people thought it was racist.

In 1970 the Dartmouth Schools “Indian” was a cartoon character that looked suspiciously like it had been lifted from Quincy’s now-retired “Yakoo.”

By 1975 the Dartmouth Public Schools were using a newer Indian image with a Western headdress. In 1977 the Pathfinder Indian was designed by Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, now Chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah, and her brother while they were students at Dartmouth High School. This may be the only true part of the tale.

The Pathfinder appeared on yearbooks until at least 1988 (and possibly longer) but that image bears no resemblance to the one used today. At some point, the Dartmouth Schools replaced the Maltais Pathfinder with almost exactly the same image rejected by Dartmouth College in 1974. College on the left, High School on the right:

This Dartmouth College version is the one that now brings in royalties for the Dartmouth Schools — royalties not shared with any tribe.