Local tribes are leading a shift towards more inclusive mascots and programs


SAUGATUCK, Mich. – Recent changes to professional team mascots have recently made headlines. From the now Cleveland Guardians to the larger change in the Washington football team, there has been a calculation in the professional sports world regarding perceptions of Native American heritage.

This is also happening at the local level, across the country.

In Saugatuck, the change had happened long before professional teams officially took action on the problem. Formerly the Indians, last week Saugatuck Public Schools officially transitioned to the Trailblazers’ new moniker and imagery as a replacement for their decades-old mascot.

“Times are changing and I think this change is making things better for every student who 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. It’s about fairness; that’s important right now.

Although Saugatuck has phased out his old images and name for years – painting over murals on the gymnasium wall and moving away from the image on uniforms and fields – the cost of designing a new one image and a new mascot and the implementation of curriculum changes to include more lessons on Native American history and culture were high.

But for the past four years, help has been available for schools and organizations that want to update. Under Governor Snyder, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi applied for, and was authorized to use a portion of the casino revenues typically paid to the state for fees, to go to the Native American Heritage Fund instead. This was made possible through an amendment to the Tribal State Gambling Contract between the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi and the State of Michigan.

Recipients like Saugatuck Public Schools – which received approximately $ 43,000 for their changes – can use the funding for projects that support inclusion and education around Native American culture.

“If that creates a negative atmosphere for Native American students, that’s what we’re trying to focus on,” said Jamie Stuck, tribal president of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi. “We don’t just point out problems, do we? we’re not just pointing fingers here, we’re actually bringing solutions to the table.

In the past, the fund has helped public schools in Belding, Godfrey-Lee, and Lansing make changes to their mascots – taking them from negative images of Native Americans to something completely new.

Even the town of Kalamazoo received nearly $ 77,000 in 2018 to help remove the Pioneer Fountain statue in Bronson Park that negatively portrayed Native Americans.

“To have this consultation and partnership with the tribes, allowing them to have a say in how our history, our culture, our background, our values ​​are taught and be part of the process,” Stuck said, “no only getting it from another point of view, actually working with the tribes to see how we would like our history, our culture and our heritage to be taught.

“When you go back to the beginning of it all, it’s about doing what’s right for the students,” Dr. Travis said. “To have a culture that values ​​the worth of every student who attends school at Saugatuck Public Schools and who is aware of their background, history and family. That is really what it is, at the end of the day. 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 the students.

To view the fund recipients over the years, click here.

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