Debate over Teton High School mascot continues

DRIGGS, ID — Is the team name “Redskins,” coupled with a mascot loosely resembling a Native American, offensive?

According to members of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe — actual, present-day Native Americans — yeah, it is.

A panel was held on Wednesday night at Teton High School ith representatives from local and regional Native American tribes to share their perspective on the mascot debate. Whether Teton High School should change its mascot will be officially discussed at a school board meeting July 8.

By and large, the five Native American representatives at Wednesday’s panel discussion agreed that the Redskins mascot is at best a misrepresentation of Native culture.

“I try to teach my kids all of their heritage, which includes Native American, and I don’t want them to have to come into a school every day where they are seeing those words and that imagery when it’s a misrepresentation of their culture,” Victor resident Michelle Beitinger told KPVI.

Driggs isn’t the only school under fire. Across the country, schools with Native American-inspired mascots are being challenged to rebrand. Those against Native American mascots argue that mascots are, by definition, reductive and stereotypical.

But defenders of the Redskins argue the mascot serves to honor history tradition and history, not insult it.

Idaho Rep. Chad Christensen took to social media in May to voice his support of the Redskins. “I stand with those that support keeping tradition. The term ‘Redskin’ did not originate as a negative term. In fact, Native Americans used the term themselves!” he wrote. “I support Teton Valley using the name and the mascot at their high school, in honor of the Native American.”

Indeed, according to reporting from NPR and Smithsonian historian Ives Goddard, Native Americans did once use the term “Redskin” to differentiate themselves from white colonizers. But it took a violent turn in the late 1800s, as celebrated authors and thinkers called for the eradication of Native Americans, or Redskins.

Popular opinion, at least online, swings in favor of keeping the mascot. Shoshone-Bannock Tribes shared a poll on Facebook with more than 2,000 responses, 72% of which wanted to keep the mascot. Randy ‘L Teton, Shoshone-Bannick Public Affairs Manager, said the people who participated in the poll were not its intended audience — people on the Fort Hall Reservation and people from Blackfoot.

“Once it was shared it went into another person’s contacts and people and friends and they engaged,” Teton said. “So I would have to say that the survey did not reflect the audience that it was intended for.”

Victor resident Dale Sharkey told KVPI that he is not, in fact, the intended audience, so his opinion isn’t the one that matters. “What matters is the people that we’ve invited here to speak,” he said. “The people who this is their homeland. The people who have children in this school district who are Native American. That’s whose opinion matters; mine don’t.”

The Teton Valley School District board of trustees will meet July 8 to hear public comment and perhaps make a final decision about the mascot’s fate.

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