Va. Principal Nixes Native American Mascot Name

By Dakarai I. Aarons — September 15, 2009 1 min read
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The brand-new high school won’t open until next year, but a Virginia principal is already facing an ethical dilemma, The Washington Post reports.

Tuscarora High School, the newest addition to Virginia’s fast-growing Loudon County, is named after an American Indian tribe that spent time in the region. Some of the group’s members settled in the area in the 18th century.

Students this week are going to vote on three choices to name their mascot. When Principal Pamela Paul-Jacobs asked students to suggest names this summer, the top suggestions were the Huskies, the Timber Wolves, and the Tribe. The thought of including Tribe on the final ballot, however, gave the principal serious pause.

The students, Paul-Jacobs told The Post, had noble reasons for picking Tribe as one of the choices.

Her students had compelling reasons for choosing the name. A tribe signifies "a family and people coming together for a greater cause, the strength of the collective group," she said.

The debate over using names that refer to Native Americans has been going on for years. (A quick history is here) The Atlanta Braves baseball team and the Washington Redskins football team have both been roundly criticized for continuing to use names and mascots that are offensive to many American Indians.

In a 2001 newsletter, the National School Boards Association recommended school districts take a second look at images and mascots using the names of American Indians.

Among the questions the association suggested school boards ask themselves:

Do Native Americans and non-Native Americans perceive the mascot differently?
Is there a significant difference between how the mascot is intended and how it is interpreted?

Schools aren’t the only ones grappling with how to deal with these names. Some newspapers have decided to stop using the mascot names, as the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star did in January 2003.

After seeking advice from some American Indian groups, Paul-Jacobs decided against including Tribe on the list of choices for students to vote on, picking instead Tigers as the third choice on the list students will see this week.

Do you think she made the right decision?

What sort of guidance, if any, does your district’s policies give to principals who might find themselves in the same situation as Paul-Jacobs?

Has your district or school looked at changing any mascots deemed offensive or insensitive?

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.