LETTER TO THE EDITOR: What’s in a name?

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Hello Fellow Dowagiac Chieftains,

What’s in a name?

A rose by any other name is still a rose but a Chieftain by any other name is not the same. 

The definition of the word Chieftain explains that it is not an appropriated word. It is not derogatory or offensive. No one culture can say it belongs wholly to them. 




The leader of a people or clan.

“Powerful feudal chieftains”


A powerful member of an organization.

“An elite composed of corporate chieftains”

With the recent public comments at the Dowagiac School Board meetings, talk around Dowagiac has escalated quickly as to why now are some citizens calling for an end to the Dowagiac Chieftains? 

So why now after two different agreements have been made? The most recent in 2019, have some of our community members decided that they wholly own the word Chieftain? 

It has been mentioned at recent school board meetings by a small group that the word chieftain is racist and a derogatory name. 

A person can not attest to someone else’s experiences and feelings but in my circle and my own experiences the Chieftain name has only been positive. The City of Dowagiac and the Dowagiac Schools have from my standpoint always done their best to coexist, excel and have respect for our Pokagon Band brothers and sisters.

Pokagon Band members have sought me out for guidance because they are scared to speak out for their support for the use of the word Chieftain and the arrowhead and feathered images. They are scared that it could affect their standing within the Pokagon Band. They have fear of being alienated by members of their own culture because they do not agree with this stance. I wonder how many more are in silence because of the same fear? I wonder how many other community members feel the same way and take pride in the word Chieftain? 

It would be naive to believe that in a shared community between city, school and Pokagon Band members that our cultures would not have shared traditions, blended ideas and imagery. You can look at the newly anointed Dowagiac city flag. The flag’s nautical star color is orange for the Fire Keepers, the Dowagiac Schools and the factory workers in the early 1900’s furnace industry. The nautical star is for all of the people that have navigated here from all over the world One symbol with multiple meanings. The same can be said for the word Chieftain. Although we have used different imagery in the past, we are Chieftains because we as a community are a clan that lead together. 

The stories that have been told to me as to why we are Chieftains and why we have used Native American symbolism were all as a sign of respect. The world has rapidly changed about our past and the Dowagiac community has also. The school and community have always tried to work together with the Pokagon Band. So why now are we revisiting this?

The Dowagiac schools talk about the “whole of the child” and I ask what is best for the “whole of the community?” We as a community need to use our voices to share our positive experiences being Chieftains. We can move forward in a positive way and foster better relationships in order to make our Dowagiac a more united community to live, work and play. Let’s get back to building a better community together. 

 From a 100% Dowagiac Chieftain. 

On Dowagiac,

Patrick M. Bakeman