This story first appeared online at www.tetonvalleynews.net on Thursday, March 14. The story has been updated for the print edition to reflect student opinion and mascot history.
It was not until the very end of the meeting, around 9:15 p.m. last Monday March 11 after the Teton School Board wrapped up its agenda, that Victor resident Stephanie Crockett stepped up to the marked line in front of the camera that was still live-streaming through the district’s Facebook page and pointed again to an idea that deeply divided a community only a few years before.
“I just wanted to bring up again the issue of the Redskins mascot at the high school,” said Crockett.
She reinforced the ideas that were presented in 2013 by Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme, which she still supported despite her children having graduated and moved on from Teton High School.
She said she supported the position to change the mascot citing Woolstenhulme’s 2013 reasoning, which included the importance of respecting others, focus on teaching positive social behaviors in all schools, honoring the Native American community in our state and nation, acceptance of others as essential to students being successful in a diverse career and college work force and finally empowering students to recognize others for their character, rather than the color of their skin.
“I don’t know if I could add more than that,” she said.
Crockett said at Monday’s meeting that after the dramatic tabling of the Redskin mascot debate in 2013, she said she had wished her children could have been a part of that change, but she too moved on from the issue after they graduated from THS.
She said recent national events, namely the news around Virginia governor Ralph Northam being discovered in “blackface” in his medical school yearbook, caused Crockett to rethink the idea of the Redskins mascot. She said at the meeting that she was flipping through her daughter’s yearbook and looking at photos of her with face paint, posing in front of banners that read “Redskins” that caused her to think about the mascot again.
“Maybe we think it’s not hurting anybody,” continued Crockett. “I don’t honestly think the students and faculty feel that they are being offensive. I just think there is my daughter’s future — will she want to work for a corporation owned by a tribal member or will someone wanting to hire her look at her yearbook photo and say, ‘There she is in war paint — will she be the best candidate to represent my diverse clients?’”
Above all, Crockett wondered why a public institution like the Teton School District would continue to use a mascot that Idaho tribes, specifically the Shoshone Bannock and Nez Perce tribes, denounced during the mascot debate in 2013.
In 2013 Woolstenhulme told the school board that he was making the decision to remove the mascot from Teton High School despite generations of his own family who had graduated from Teton High School as Redskins, himself included. The school board at the time, moved by public pressure, open the conversation up to the greater community. In a historic meeting which filled the Teton High School auditorium, the public showed up and loudly protested the decision. Woolstenhulme conceded at the end of the meeting, which left some school board members in tears because of the intensity of the evening.
Crockett acknowledged the voices that spoke loudly that evening in 2013, but said at Monday’s meeting that there were still voices that spoke in favor of removing the mascot that were not as loud, but should still be considered. She reminded the current board that a committee to explore a new mascot was suggested at the time, but she hasn’t heard anything about that committee since the infamous 2013 meeting.
“I don’t know what happened to that committee and the issue was dropped,” Crockett said. She said she wanted to be a part of a solution, but would not serve on a committee that would simply discuss if Redskin was racist or offensive or not. She cited a video produced by the National Congress of American Indians in 2014 which called out the Washington Redskins mascot use.
A viewer of the meeting’s live-stream on the school district’s Facebook page chimed in with opposition to the name change.
“Why go back to that conversation of the mascot again,” wrote Melissa Webster in the live stream’s comment section. “I’m a graduate of Teton and proud to be a Teton Redskin!! I know many other people who are proud to be graduated of this school district.”
This week, members of the War Cry student newspaper weighed in on the Redskin mascot. Senior Ella Hundere-Dahlgren said the only time she’s had a heated discussion over the mascot was when she interviewed high school principal Sam Zogg on the issue. She said he was a mascot supporter and she was trying to understand why.
Hundere-Dahlgren said as a member of the Teton High School cross country team, she ran on courses that were on Native American reservations in Idaho. She said her team did not identify as Redskins out of respect for others they competed against and because of the places where they traveled. She said her team would call themselves the “Teton Harriers.”
Her teammate and fellow War Cry staffer, senior Taryn Paradis, said she didn’t like telling people that their mascot is the Redskins. She said that in today’s school climate, students were “socially woke,” or more aware of what the mascot’s name infers. “People need to understand that this name will affect others,” Paradis said.
War Cry staffer and softball player for the high school Sadie Hicks said she didn’t care if the mascot changed. She was not emotionally tied to the current mascot.
How the mascot came to be at Teton Highs School is not well documented. The first appearance of the name can be found in the 1929 Teton High School yearbook where, on a calendar of events page dated January 4, the entry reads: “Rah! Rah! Redskins! After all this year we have found a name for our team!”
The first mention of the Redskin mascot in the Teton Valley News came in 1936 in a high school sporting report. Before that, the only mention of Redskin in the Teton Valley News was in reference to Native Americans. A 1936 issue of the Teton Valley News read, “This country needs more of the immigration that made it what it is — it is NOT redskin country, it’s people who came from Europe and it needs many millions of more of the same kind.”
According to a report by the Associated Press last year, “At the end of 2017, at least 49 high schools in 20 states still used the nickname that some people consider a racist slur against Native Americans, down from at least 93 before 1990. A total of 41 high schools had dropped the name, while another three closed or merged with another school that used a different mascot.”
The school board and Woolstenhulme did not respond after Crockett’s comments that evening, which is standard at a school board meeting, in particular for items not listed on the formal meeting agenda. In a follow up email to Woolstenhulme and school board vice chair and board media contact, Nan Pugh, both declined further comment.
Idaho Native Americans addressed the state legislature in 2014. According to an article in the Idaho State Journal, Nathan Small, representing the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes located in southeastern Idaho, said that many people may not understand the term “redskin,” but explained to the audience that it’s derived from a bygone era when government entities — including the U.S. government — offered bounties for Indian scalps as a means to remove native peoples.
“And that’s where the ‘redskin’ name came from,” Small said in 2014 article. “And so, when you look at something like that, it’s about dead people, dead Indians. And, how can you name yourself something like that and be proud of that and have all the school pride for it?”
In October 2017, Zogg said the community would need to make the decision to change the Redskin mascot.
“Right now we’re the Redskins,” said Zogg in the interview with the Teton Valley News. “No matter what the name, we take it with respect and it represents us.” He added, “My personal opinion, growing up I never saw [the mascot] as a negative thing. We have the Washington Redskins. I have great respect for the Native American culture. We have a mascot and it should be taken positively.”