The Indian logo will be voted on in a citywide referendum
As the Dartmouth High Indian logo controversy continues, voters will finally have a say in the municipal elections this spring.
The select committee agreed at a meeting on February 7 to raise the question of whether to keep the Indian logo on the ballot for the April election as a non-binding referendum.
“Fundamentally, the question is very simple – it’s a yes or a no,” said board chairman Shawn McDonald.
Since the referendum is not binding, McDonald said it would allow school officials to see how the public feels.
“I think asking people what they think is always a good idea and a great way to do it,” said board member Frank Gracie III.
If residents vote to keep the Indian name and logo, officials hope to find ways to better recognize Native American history and accomplishments and share that information with the community.
“We have the opportunity to be different from what is happening perhaps across the country,” Vice President David Tatelbaum said.
Talks are currently underway between representatives of the school and the tribes.
The current logo, designed by a Wampanoag tribesman from Gay Head Aquinnah in the 1970s, has been the subject of controversy in recent years.
While national sports franchises have dropped their Native American-themed mascots and names, civil rights organizations repeatedly approached the school district to replace the Indian logo.
Early last year, the Dartmouth school board set up a Equality and Diversity Subcommittee to resolve the issue and make a recommendation on whether or not to maintain the school symbol.
The state also has introduces legislation that would ban the use of any Native American mascots by public schools in Massachusettsas well as any mascot/name “that disparages any racial, ethnic, gender or religious group”.
If passed, the bill would create an exemption if federally recognized tribes within the boundaries of the Commonwealth wanted to give “explicit consent for a school to use their particular tribal name.”
The bill is currently sitting before the State Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Opponents of the logo have argued that the use of Native Americans as mascots can harm the mental health of Native youth.
At an Equality and Diversity Subcommittee meeting last year, Dr. Laurel Davis-Delanoa sociologist who has studied Indian mascots for more than 25 years, said studies have found that exposure of Native youth to mascots such as the Dartmouth Indian creates stress, distress, depression, hostility and dysphoria.
Mascots also lead young Native Americans to have low self-esteem, a reduced ability to imagine their own future accomplishments, and less confidence in their community’s ability to make a difference, she said.
Meanwhile, officials from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah spoke out in favor of keeping the logo.
“We believe the original reference to the ‘Dartmouth Indians’ was meant to be emblematic of our athletic ability and excellence, an iconic level of athletic dominance and achievement; desired, and which the teams aspired to demonstrate,” Tribal President Cheryl Andrews-Maltese previously wrote. “In our opinion, that has not changed and should not change.”
Not all local tribes share this view.
School Committee and Equality and Diversity Sub-Committee Chairperson Dr. Shannon Jenkins has previously said that the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe, which is not recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, opposes the use of the Dartmouth Indians.
She added that the Mashpee Wampanoag are also against the use of the logo.
Representatives of the tribes did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
As the referendum now heads into the electoral ballot, Tatelbaum encouraged residents to attend the Equality and Diversity Sub-Committee meeting forum between council and tribal representatives scheduled for March 8 so that they can make an informed decision at the polls.
“I just think we have to be careful how this all plays out,” he said.