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Education | Opinion
Editorial: Indian mascots a complicated issue


"The nickname of the athletic teams in a small local school district has led to a spirited debate on tradition, cultural sensitivity and political correctness.

The Michigan Department of Education recommended in 2003 that high schools in the state drop Indian nicknames, mascots or insignia out of deference to the sensitivities of American Indians.

Among those schools is Saugatuck High School, but the school’s Indians nickname hadn’t been a source of controversy until The Sentinel reported last week that the Department of Education may not grant its Blue Ribbon Award to Saugatuck Middle School if the school district does not change its nickname and remove a mural of an Indian on a gymnasium wall. That article set off a flurry of debate on The Sentinel’s Web site and letters column.

Defenders of the use of American Indian symbols, in Saugatuck and elsewhere, argue that the nicknames are not derogatory but actually compliment the continent’s indigenous people. They cite the perceived American Indian virtues of bravery, self-reliance, independence, egalitarianism and environmental harmony as characteristics to be honored. It’s also a matter of tradition and history to many — Saugatuck, in particular, had a strong American Indian presence before the arrival of white settlers. And what of the thousands of place names in the country with American Indian origins? Are they offensive, too? Objecting to a tradition intended as positive, defenders of the practice say, is a case of political correctness run amok, an example of people seeking offense when none is intended."

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Our view - What’s in a name? A complicated question (The Holland Sentinel 1/29)