Time to let go of the "Redskins" mascot

 

“Stupid political correctness is killing us!” was one longtime local’s response after the school superintendent of Teton County, Idaho, sacked the “Redskins” as the school’s mascot. As a fifth-generation resident and Teton High graduate himself, Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme said he figured that the move would distress some people. Yet nothing could have prepared him for the community’s fervid response.

As the head volleyball coach at Teton High School, I’ve always been bothered that I teach at one of the last remaining schools in the country to use Native American mascots. Over 40 years ago, in 1972, Stanford University, where I was a student, switched from the Indians to the Cardinals. Lois Amsterdam, Stanford’s ombudsperson, noted that the Indians name was never meant to “defile a racial group. Rather, it was a reflection of our society's retarded understanding, dulled perception and clouded vision.”

The public outcry here to the Redskin announcement was loudest on social media, and a petition signed by 410 people within 24 hours circulated to recall the decision. To put that in perspective, just 364 people total voted in last May’s school board election. Even after leaders of the local Shoshone-Bannock Tribe supported discarding the Redskin moniker, over 200 people, dressed in Redskin memorabilia, showed up at a school board meeting to demand its retention.

There was some concern about the costs to taxpayers, despite assurances that changes would only happen within existing equipment budgets over the next six years. But most people were outraged by the insinuation that the name had ever been used offensively.

“It’s our constitutional right to say whatever we want,” people argued, “and if someone is offended, then that’s their problem.” At the conclusion of that emotional school board meeting, Woolstenhulme recommended tabling a decision on the mascot name until further notice.

The Redskin debate has been one of the hottest in the simmering slew of issues in recent years. It’s what happens when one of the most conservative communities in the West gets discovered by outdoor enthusiasts and retirees, some of them liberal thinkers from different parts of the country. Some may say that Teton Valley, close to Jackson, Wyo., is like any community with growing pains, but it's not everywhere that both Glenn Beck and Widespread Panic have performed a few miles apart on the 4th of July.

These are some of the words used in letters to the editor, on social media and at backyard barbecues in recent weeks, to characterize everything from the Redskins debate to our new comprehensive land-use plan: “tyranny,” “hippie biker,” “move-in,” “ignorant,” “arrogant,” “redneck,” “bully,” “intellectually dishonest,” “polarizing,” “corrupt,” “selfish,” “tea bagger,” “unqualified crony,” “fearful,” “right-wing conspiracy,” “Agenda 21,” “village idiot,” and (this is harsh), “pretty little potty mouth.”

To be fair, most of us here live together in relative harmony. But just when I think it’s not that bad, a truck pulls up next to me while I’m dropping off my 11-year-old daughter at her 4H archery club, and a small freckled boy hops out of a side door, whose window has a bumper sticker that says, “Gorpers Suck.” For those not in the know, a gorper refers to an environmentalist or perhaps a hiker or biker.

When does someone’s freedom of speech infringe on another person’s wellbeing? When is it just plain mean and mindless to insult people you don’t know?  I just returned from a five-day team camp in Utah with 21 extraordinary, diverse volleyball players who bonded like cement on the court, under the disco ball, and along the hot highway home. We want to be champions, but to do it we know we must overlook our personal differences. It’s up to us to develop our strengths and conquer our weaknesses.

I have the utmost reverence for the past and its cherished symbols, but its time to move forward. Who we are is so much more than what we were; I can only imagine what we might become. I believe Woolstenhulme’s decision was a good-faith attempt to accept and understand another culture and set rules for effective and non-threatening communications. Now it’s up to “us” and “them” and everyone in between to decide whether united we’ll stand, or divided we’ll fall.

Sue Muncaster is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. She is a freelance writer, coach, food activist and adventurous mom.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • MS ACCESS DATABASE PROGRAMER
    Looking for an access programmer. Contract position. Send resume with references and rates to: [email protected] www.prospace.biz
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.