I receive the Cherokee Phoenix (the Cherokee Nation newspaper) weekly by email, and today opened my inbox to this article about Stilwell HS (located in Stilwell, OK) and their new mascot, Tommy Tomahawk. Stilwell High School’s student population is 70% Native, the vast majority of whom are Cherokee. The Phoenix article is addressing the controversy surrounding Tommy’s unveiling, and it seems the school “didn’t intend to offend anyone” (duh):
“It was done strictly to create school spirit because they’re proud of their Indian heritage,” Fletcher said. “Primarily, it was something the kids got after and promoted. Even our Indian heritage club was part of (the) promotion of that and donated funds for that.”
That (alarming and maddening) statement from a school official reminded me of this great cartoon that manages to capture so much:
Though the school (and, apparently some of the students) consider the new mascot honorable, many of us would beg to differ, including some of the Cherokee Nation citizens:
CN citizen and Stilwell alumna Melanie Knight said she was disappointed the school would create a mascot that is a caricature and warped image of American Indians.
“It has been difficult to address long-term mascots that have become part of some schools’ history and legacy,” she said. “This is an opportunity to prevent that from happening. Tommy Tomahawk and his personification clearly says to me that Indians are a joke.”
The mascot follows the pattern of most other Indian mascots–his clothing reflects a “plains” style, though not a correct representation of any tribal dress, he has the stereotypical long braids and face paint, and, of course, he is styled to look menacing.
I won’t get into the meat of the mascot issue here, but there are some strong faq, articles and analysis that you can read here:
The bottom line is, how can you look at that mascot and not think it is dehumanizing and racist? Especially if the school was attempting to “honor” the Native students?
Also, for reference, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith in traditional clothing:
Stilwell High School’s Indian Mascot Causes Stir: http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/21050/Article.aspx