NORTH CENTER — Lane Tech may be replacing their longtime “Indian” mascot after more than 1,000 alumni demanded the school get rid of it, calling it “wrong and racist.”
In an email sent to Lane students, parents and teachers Tuesday night, Principal Brian Tennison said the school was working with CPS and its Local School Council to “consider selecting a new mascot.”
“During this important time of confronting racist structures within our society and in our school, we as a school community have been hearing from various stakeholders asking to change Lane’s mascot,” Tennison said in the email. “The LSC will create opportunities for community members to share their viewpoints, and we will be in touch in the coming weeks regarding next steps to gain your input.”
The school’s mascot is a Native American man wearing a feathered headdress. Lane’s athletic teams are called the “Indians” on the school’s website and on the Illinois High School Association’s directory.
The mascot and name have been part of the school’s history for more than 100 years. While there have been prior efforts to remove them, some Lane alumni have a renewed sense of urgency due to the nationwide protests and conversations about systemic racism.
“At its core, it’s wrong and racist,” said Jetzi Calvin, who graduated from Lane in 2010 and is part of a group urging removal of the symbols. “Times are changing. It’s about time that Lane Tech gets with the program and removes this.”
On Saturday, Calvin’s group created a Google survey for Lane alumni to petition the school to get rid of the mascot and related symbolism because it perpetuates harmful “caricatures and stereotypes” of Native American people.
More than 1,000 alumni signed it within a day, said Citlali Arroyo, who graduated from Lane in 2010.
“It doesn’t just ask alumni to add their name to our petition. It also explains why continuing to use this mascot is wrong,” Arroyo said. “The Lane alumni network is huge. If removing this racist symbol isn’t remembering the honor of Lane, then I don’t know what is.”
Maggie Haite graduated from Lane Tech in 2019 and recalls administrators doing their best to stop students from doing things that were culturally insensitive. But she says the “Indian” symbolism all over the the school has led to more than once instance of tone-deaf behavior.
“The first few years I was there there were issues with students wearing headdresses at football games and pep rallies,” she said. “The school was quick to shut that down.”
Another incident occurred in 2014 during Lane’s annual International Days event to showcase student talent and diversity.
As part of the celebrations, club members perform dances reflecting a specific culture or tradition. The all-white Native American Club, which was created that year, had “streaks of paint across their faces” while stomping barefoot and beating drums to “Native American music coming from the speakers,” according to the school’s newspaper.
“The school’s faculty addressed it, too, but the fact it could even get this far to begin with is because of the ‘Indians’ symbolism found all over the school,” Haite said.
A separate change.org petition by current Lane students also went live Saturday and has more than 2,800 signatures. The alumni behind the Google survey are in the process of combining their efforts with current students, Haite said.
Alumni like Haite are also reaching out to groups like the Chicago American Indian Community Collaborative, the Chi Nation Youth Council and the district’s American Indian Education Program to make sure they’re being allies in their efforts to remove the symbol.
Lane’s administration did not return requests for comment.
While the school has made some efforts to play down the “Indian” name over the years, the imagery is prevalent throughout Lane’s campus, merchandise and marketing.
School sweaters and shirts feature the “Indian” name as well as images of a Native American man in a feathered headdress.
The school’s inner courtyard has a sculpture of a Native American man created by artist John Szaton in 1947. Szaton was paid $1,500 to create “Indian Shooting the Stars” for the school as a memorial to Lane students who died in World War II.
There are also murals featuring Native Americans painted by artists like John Wally, Jefferson League and Henry George Brandt. Some of these murals were painted as part of the Works Progress Administration program during the Great Depression.
The school also has a totem pole on its campus that was built in the 1980s by Lane students.
“Lane Tech has a long history of underplaying their role in perpetuating violence against Native People in Chicago with these symbols,” said Fawn Pochel, education coordinator for the American Indian Center.
The mascot, murals, statue and totem pole at Lane all treat Native Americans like a monoculture — which they are not — and like a “historic” people who are no longer still in the city, which is also incorrect, Pochel said.
“This completely erases Indigenous people’s contributions to Chicago and the development of the nation as a whole before it was colonized,” Pochel said. “When we think about policies at CPS, they are supposed to be against racism. But these murals and the symbolism still at the school are violence against Indigenous people, especially Indigenous students attending Lane.”
Lane’s student newspaper staff removed the mascot in 2016 from their logo because it was “insensitive to the Native American community.” Since then it’s been a point of contention between older groups of alumni and current students and more recent graduates.
When Arroyo initially sought alumni to support removing the symbolism, she got pushback online from people who graduated from Lane in the 1980s and earlier. Some moderators of these Facebook groups even deleted her posts asking for alumni to get involved in the effort, Arroyo said.
“I also got a text from an older alumni group complaining about us trying to get rid of the symbol because it’s a ‘tradition.’ But the people worrying the most about preserving tradition graduated, like, 50 years ago,” Calvin said.
In 2017, a different group of alumni petitioned to preserve the mascot because it was part of the school’s “tradition.” That petition got 2,076 signatures.
“Lane Tech has always stood for honor, respect and tradition for over 100 years. Now ‘outsiders’ come along and try to change a tradition that has stood tall and proud for more years than these people been alive!,” Art Colletta wrote on the 2017 petition defending the mascot. “I will always be proud to say I attended Lane Tech. Class of 1971.”
Comments like these are why alumni like Arroyo are also trying to educate people about the harm caused by Lane’s appropriation of of Native American culture and symbolism.
“We have to have a real conversation about removing it and why it’s offensive before we can even consider what could one day replace it,” Arroyo said.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.