NORTH CENTER — After more than 100 years and amid growing pressure from community members, Lane Tech College Prep is taking its first steps to oust its controversial Indian mascot.
Lane’s advisory council unanimously agreed Tuesday to launch a process for removing the mascot, which features a Native American man wearing a feathered headdress.
“I have listened and I also strongly believe that having the name of an ‘Indian’ is disrespectful on so many levels and it is harmful,” council chairperson Emily Haite said during the meeting. “I do not want want to continue having the ‘Indian’ as the symbol for Lane Tech.”
A group of Lane alumni and current students renewed their push to get rid of the school’s symbols in the wake of recent protests against systemic racism this summer. This latest effort was spearheaded by recent alumni and current students.
Because so many people complained about the mascot to Chicago Public Schools, Principal Brian Tennison directed the school council to address the issue with a vote.
While the vote was unanimous, at least part of the Lane community remains divided. A community survey generating more than 9,100 responses showed 52.5 percent of students, parents, alumni and community members favored discontinuing the mascot, “Indian” name and related Native American imagery.
The council’s vote was advisory. Now school leaders are in contact with the district’s equity office to find out what the next steps will be, Haite said in an email.
Tennison also said he supported the students’ effort to remove the mascot.
“It is very clear what the indigenous population has been saying, it is very clear what our students have been saying,” Tennison said, according to WGN.
The mascot and related imagery have been part of the school’s history for more than 100 years. But they’ve long been points of contention between predominately older groups of alumni who insist of keeping them, and current students and more recent graduates who have pushed to remove them.
“It’s just a gross generalization about Native and Indigenous people. Even if it was meant to be positive when it was first adopted, it’s still a setback for our people,” said Derrick David, an incoming freshman and member of the Menominee and Santo Domingo Pueblo tribes.
David, 14, says he’s often offended with how Indigenous people are portrayed in popular media, especially in sports. He’s glad the council listened to the community and sided with people who wanted the current “Indian” gone.
“Often the only representation Indigenous people have are things like the Blackhawks logo and the Lane ‘Indian.’ Mascots like those treat people like me like we don’t exist anymore when we’re right here,” David said. “But I’m still here and I don’t look anything like those mascots.”
Fawn Pochel, education coordinator for the American Indian Center, previously told Block Club the school’s mascot and related murals, statue and totem pole are “are violence against Indigenous people” and should be removed.
She said she is glad younger generation of students and alumni fought so hard for this change but the reality is replacing the mascot will prove a long, difficult process.
The Indian symbol is part of Lane’s legacy of patriarchal white supremacy and is deeply rooted in the school’s history, she said. It will take time to divorce the imagery from the school’s culture and explain how symbols like the “Indian” are harmful to indigenous communities and people of color.
“I got emails threatening my job after the vote because people really hold onto their opinions that the ‘Indian’ mascot is about a sense of pride. But what they need to realize is that pride is rooted in a form of white supremacy,” Pochel said.
In an email sent to district officials and the American Indian Center ahead of the vote, Thomas Flanagan, a 1982 Lane graduate, said the council was just sowing the seeds of “hatred and division” over what older generations considered an ideal to which to aspire.
“Regardless of how you choose to view the varied, colorful, vivid and tragic tapestry that is the story of the Native American Peoples, I do not intend to debate history here and now,” Flanagan wrote. “Nor do I intend to apologize for the actions of other people in other times. For good or bad, those vignettes in bygone eras have made us all what we are today. The past cannot be undone.”
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