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Letter -- Jan Achilles

August 11, 2001

Should John Burroughs High School keep its Indian mascot or choose

another?

What do you think?

I am a Chippewa Indian, and my siblings and I attended high school

with white people. We were the only Indians in the town, but much to my

distress we were not the only Indians at the school. Our sports team was

named the Indians.

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When in assembly (which took place in the gymnasium), the wall had a

caricature much to the liking of Chief Wahoo.

I will never forget the first time I saw the cartoon drawing and the

horror I felt with the representation of an Indian looking like that. I

was so embarrassed and uncomfortable. It was that day when I had my first

dose of feeling shame.

No other race is used as a mascot. No other race has those horrible

caricatures painted on the walls, gym floors or displayed in or around

the buildings. Why would anyone ever think it's OK to use a race in such

a manner?

People call it an honor, but that honor is being based on tradition or

the sentiments of those who attended the school and don't want to see

change.

Changing the mascot isn't going to harm the stamina or power of the

sports team. But keeping the mascot is always going to take away some of

the growth of the developing minds of American Indian children when the

stereotypes and racism evolve around them in the guise of "honoring" the

American Indians.

No one should ever be made to feel uncomfortable when attending any of

our schools across the country.

I cannot tell you how it felt to watch and listen to the cheerleaders

chant out, "Scalp 'em!" during the games, as well as other cheers that

made references to the Indians.

I can only give you my perspective as an American Indian.

It hurt. It hurt way deep inside as my brother and I were constantly

taunted as being the "real" Danville Indians. After all, we were living

proof that the Indians were alive and well.

Yes, we were alive, but neither my brother nor I felt it inside while

attending the school. I didn't know the words "racism" and "prejudice"

then, but the feelings were there all the same.

Times have changed in the 30 years I have left that school.

Or have they?

I know as an American Indian the stereotype and racism a caricature

can produce in the young minds of the children. I know as an American

Indian the stereotype and racism a name such as "The Indians" can produce

in the young minds of the children.

I know this because I lived with it. I am still living with it to this

day.

But I can't go back and change the history of my life's events. What

was done cannot be erased, but I can bear witness that having the name

the Indians for sports teams should not be in any school when it's been

proven time and again that they promote a stereotypical view of American

Indians -- one that is usually not flattering.

Instead of honoring Indians by retaining a mascot, honor Indian people

by eliminating them. This will be the truest form.

JAN ACHILLES

St. Johnsbury, Vt.

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