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By Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., Published May 09 2010

Wisconsin law first for ending use of Native American logos

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has signed the nation’s first state law establishing a process for ending the use of Native American mascots, nicknames and logos “in ways that portray racial stereotyping and disrespect of our native citizens.”

Doyle signed the measure Wednesday.

“The marginalization of a portion of our population should not be tolerated,” state Rep. Jim Soletski, a Democrat from Green Bay and co-author of the bill, said in a written statement released Thursday.

“Wisconsin now leads in the effort to respect all people.”

Soletski said the argument often was made during the years of debate over the legislation that it should be a matter of local control.

“However, it is important to note that the use of race-based nicknames, mascots or logos is not just a local issue,” he said. “Local control is appropriate only when dealing with issues whose impact is exclusively within a school district. The use of race-based nicknames, mascots or logos is interscholastic by nature and, thus, affects other students and communities.”

The new law “will not prohibit school districts from taking the initiative to act locally to make change, as many have done,” he said, but such local efforts often have divided communities.

“The issue has become too emotional to be dealt with objectively or safely, as demonstrated by the fact that American Indian families have been subjected to threats and violence when they have asked their local school board to eliminate the school’s racial nickname, mascot or logo,” Soletski said.

“The new law will afford an important option, allowing for a third party, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, to hear complaints about the use of race-based nicknames, mascots or logos.”

Applauded in ND

Erich Longie, a leading opponent of UND’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo on the Spirit Lake Sioux reservation, said Wisconsin’s new law “will make it more difficult for pro-logo people to justify keeping the name.”

The law “basically outlaws Indian mascots and logos and sends a message” well beyond Wisconsin’s borders, he said.

“It’s a huge precedent,” Longie said. “It provides a strong argument for anti-logo people everywhere. They’re going to point to Wisconsin and say they came into the 21st century; why can’t we?”

Longie said he was pleased and a little surprised that the Fighting Sioux name and logo appear to be on the way out, barring a last-minute change in attitude from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the state Board of Higher Education.

“I used to say it probably won’t happen in my lifetime,” he said. “Lo and behold, the nickname is not only retired, but we’re also fighting off efforts to reinstate it.”

Archie Fool Bear, a leading nickname supporter at Standing Rock, said the Wisconsin action “doesn’t change anything” in the ongoing effort to retain the Fighting Sioux logo.

“I’m still standing on the ground that we committed a ceremony and that’s where we should stand,” he said. Logo supporters believe that a 1969 tribal ceremony at Standing Rock authorized UND to use the Sioux name.

Similar to NCAA/strong>

The Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel newspaper in Milwaukee applauded the new law, noting that the legislation would allow a school district to show that its mascot is not discriminatory based on approval by a federally recognized American Indian tribe – a provision similar to the NCAA policy that UND has sought to comply with by winning Spirit Lake and Standing Rock approval for its use of Fighting Sioux.

The Green Bay Press Gazette also approved:

“The bill’s impending passage into law offers a teachable moment about race relations. Now would be a good time for schools to talk frankly with students and their parents about why society has allowed sports teams to reinforce stereotypes of Native Americans and why it’s time for schools to let them go.”

Barbara Munson, a member of the Oneida tribe and chairwoman of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s task force on Indian nicknames, also celebrated the signing of the law.

“I have seen the best spirit of Wisconsin in action – people of all ages, races and ethnicities working together to make things better for all the children in our state,” she said.

Munson noted that the legislation was written by Sen. Spencer Coggs, an African-American who represents Milwaukee, and Rep. Soletski, a Polish-American.

Since the formation of the task force in 1997, it has sought to remove “Indian” mascots, logos and nicknames from Wisconsin’s public schools through education, advocacy and legislation.

Thirty-six schools in Wisconsin still have some form of race-based nicknames and logos, but 28 others recently have changed.

At the bill signing, Munson spoke to the 36 schools whose athletic teams are still identified as “Indians” or “Warriors” or other race-based names.

“I encourage you to reframe your view from one of local control to one of seeking social justice,” she said. “Focus on the education policy issue of pupil nondiscrimination and educate yourselves as to the harm caused by the practice of stereotyping.”


Chuck Haga is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.