LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The Chieftain logo

Published 5:00 am Saturday, July 8, 2023

For many in the Dowagiac community, the Dowagiac Union Schools Chieftain logo is almost a part of their identity—many played sports or marched in the band, and cheered in the stands as Dowagiac Chieftains. Even long after graduating, people wear their Chieftain jackets, showing their community spirit with pride. The Chieftain logo is everywhere, including the outside of the buildings for people driving by to see.

As other schools in the area make changes to their logos and mascots, people here say, “But our design and the use of the Chieftain name was agreed upon with the Pokagon Band years ago. Why do we need to change?” That is, indeed, the question that must be answered.

First of all, over time, regardless of past agreements, society has become more aware of the importance of cultural sensitivity and inclusivity. We are more aware of the harm caused by using racial, ethnic, or indigenous identities as sports symbols.

In addition, we must recognize that appropriation of Native American cultural symbols and imagery is disrespectful and even demeaning. Native American traditions are rich and diverse. Misappropriating these images often leads to stereotyping and outdated portrayals of indigenous people, reinforcing inaccurate perceptions. These stereotypes can perpetuate harmful biases and contribute to the marginalization and discrimination of Native American communities. Our schools should be places that are welcoming and inclusive of all students.

In fact, students in Dowagiac have reported being harassed by other students and subjected to racial slurs and name calling by students from other schools at sporting events. Surrounded by the many mascot images on school walls, posters, stationery, and clothing, Native students can be made to feel that their identity is being trivialized.

As cultural norms have changed, many schools—and sports teams—have become more aware of the importance of cultural sensitivity and inclusivity and made the decision to retire Native American mascots. Dowagiac should do the same.

This can be an opportunity for education and cultural understanding. The Board of Education and the district superintendent should lead the way in helping teachers, students, and the community to understand why this change should be made. The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians should be invited to participate in helping people to understand more of their cultural imagery and its importance within their community.

Let’s come together and recognize that images have power, and the time has come to acknowledge the harm the Chieftain image is now causing. Surely, the school community is creative enough to make the selection of a new mascot a fun and challenging learning experience for students, staff, and the wider community. Change is not always welcome or easy, but change is also what brings growth and progress in our lives.

Naomi Ludman,