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Dowagiac can stay Chieftains

Published 6:08pm Monday, June 3, 2013

The U.S. Department of Education has dismissed Michigan Department of Civil Rights’ 34-page Feb. 8 complaint against 35 school districts, including Dowagiac, asking it to prohibit use of American Indian mascots, citing evidence that such imagery negatively impacts student learning and creates an unequal learning environment in violation of Article VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


“We are disappointed that the U.S. Department of Education considered our complaints based only on the previously-established ‘hostile environment’ standard, but chose not to consider whether the standard itself needs to be re-examined based on the empirical evidence we provided showing that it fails to prevent harm to students. MDCR believes the evidence is clear that students are being hurt by the continued use of American Indian mascots and imagery. We will continue to look for ways to insure all students are equally protected. MDCR is reviewing the decision and considering next steps.”


Daniel M. Levy, MDCR law and policy director, was notified of the decision by Catherine D. Criswell, director of the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Region XV, in Cleveland.


“OCR will not initiate an investigation unless a complaint provides sufficient detail (i.e. who, what, where, when, how) for OCR to infer that discrimination under one of the laws we enforce may have occurred or is occurring,” Criswell wrote. “As OCR informed you in its March 4 letter, in complaints involving mascots, names and other associated imagery, OCR examines whether the complaint allegations are sufficient to constitute a racially hostile environment. A racially hostile environment is one in which racially harassing conduct takes place that is sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent to limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the recipient’s programs or services.


“In response to OCR’s request for clarification of your complaints, you assert that empirical evidence supports that race-based athletic nicknames and associated activities, including the use of American Indian mascots, are psychologically harmful to American Indian students attending schools with race-based nicknames and that their use denies such students equal access to educational opportunities.


“You further assert that, given this empirical evidence, OCR should not require identification of specific students or individuals who have been harmed to support a claim. You did not provide to OCR any specific examples of race-based incidents nor identify any students or individuals who have suffered specific harm because of the alleged discrimination at any of the named school districts.


“Based on the foregoing,” Criswell wrote, “OCR concludes that the information you provided is not sufficient for OCR to infer that racial discrimination has occurred or is occurring. OCR is therefore dismissing your complaints as of the date of this letter,” May 29.


She added, “There may be state and local laws relevant to your complaints. You may wish to consult with a private attorney, local legal aid organization and/or state or local bar association, which may be able to assist you further. We regret that we were unable to assist you in this matter.”


MDCR filed its complaint against the Dowagiac Chieftains, Hartford Indians, Paw Paw Redskins and White Pigeon Chiefs, among others, on Feb. 8 because of the Dawes Act of 1877, when Congress authorized the President of the United States to survey Indian tribal land and divide it into allotments for individual Indians.


Dowagiac became the Chieftains in 1928. Dowagiac Union Schools and the Pokagon Band signed a joint resolution 23 years ago in March 1990 to insure a spirit of mutual cooperation and respect for many future generations.


That agreement included adoption of the official logo accurately depicting a Potawatomi chief created by Pokagon Band member Ron Mix.


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