Rotary Club discusses the Dowagiac Chieftains

DOWAGIAC — Standing behind a podium bearing multiple miniature, colorful flags, Larry Crandall, of Dowagiac told a decades-old tale about how the Dowagiac Chieftains made their most recent logo.

During the Dowagiac Rotary Club’s weekly meeting Thursday, Crandall presented to the club about his experience in creating an agreement with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians to create a new logo for the Dowagiac Chieftains, of Dowagiac Public Schools, in the mid 1990s.

It all began when Crandall, who was the assistant superintendent of DUS at the time, learned of action in Lansing, Michigan to ban schools from using Native American symbols or names for their mascots. In order to combat this, Crandall met with the tribal chair of the Pokagon Band at the time, Joe Winchester.

When the two met, Winchester expressed interest in keeping the name of the Chieftains, much to Crandall’s relief.

However, Winchester said that some changes would need to be made in order to ensure that the Pokagon Band was being properly honored.

“[Winchester] said to me, ‘I graduated from Dowagiac, and as far as I’m concerned, we will always be the Chieftains,’” Crandall recalled. “But he said that we would need to make some changes.”

The first change to be made was the Chieftain logo. Previously, the logo depicted a Native American wearing a traditional, full headdress. When Winchester informed Crandall that the logo did not depict a Pokagon Potawatomi Indian, the school district turned over the logo to the tribe, and artist Ron Mix, to redesign the logo to better represent a Pokagon Band member. The logo that the tribe came back with is the logo that is still used today.

The second change was to create programs to educate students and the public about the history of the tribe.

“I think there are books that will provide history that we can put in our libraries to help our students understand and appreciate the history and culture of the Pokagon Band,” Winchester told Crandall at the time.

The third change was to work with the media to ensure that the Chieftain name was not used to create racist or offensive headlines, such as “Chieftains scalp Vikings,” an example of a verbiage that has been used in newspapers covering schools with Native American nicknames across the country.

One of the final changes to be made was to instruct students to stop using offensive chants or hand motions (such as the tomahawk hand motion) during sporting events.

“We are a peaceful tribe,” Crandall recalled Winchester telling him. “We don’t want our pep band using those chants.”

With the changes agreed upon, the Dowagiac Board of Education and the Pokagon Band tribal council signed an agreement. To celebrate, the next fall at Dowagiac’s first football game, the tribe and school board exchanged gifts and gave a presentation on the history of the tribe.

“And we are still the Chieftains,” Crandall said, concluding his presentation. “[The Dowagiac mascot] is really just a part of the great respect and partnership we have with our local tribe.”

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