NORTH CENTER — Lane Tech College Prep won’t begin to pick a new mascot to replace its controversial “Indian” until after the school year starts in September, according to school leaders.
The “Indian” has been part of the school for more than 100 years, but it’s generated controversy, with critics saying it was offensive to Indigenous people. Lane’s local school council unanimously agreed Tuesday to get rid of the mascot and related imagery and begin a process to replace them.
But that work won’t start until after the school year starts Sept. 8, according to a statement posted Thursday night to the council’s Facebook page by Lane Principal Brian Tennison and Laura LeMone, Chicago Public Schools Network 14 chief.
The council will create a committee to find a replacement symbol. The committee will include Lane students along with faculty, staff, administration and district officials, council chairperson Emily Haite said in an email.
CPS officials did not return messages asking for specifics on how the process will work.
The school’s council said CPS’ office of equity sent a letter saying district leaders recently spoke to the American Indian Center about replacing Lane’s “Indian” symbol.
“We acknowledge that for some Lane Tech constituents, the symbol/mascot represents a deep connection to their historical school experiences, which the Office of Equity took into account; however, those memories can not take precedence over repairing historical harm upon Indigenous people and their heritage,” the office said in the letter.
Heather Miller, the American Indian Center’s executive director and a member of the Wyandotte Nation from Oklahoma, confirmed CPS reached out after Tuesday’s vote.
The conversation with CPS was productive, Miller said, and focused on the nuts and bolts of how the process of removing the “Indian” will unfold.
For instance, the school has a large fire curtain with the “Indian” symbol on it, and CPS is trying to figure out the cost and logistics of removing it. CPS officials told Miller once the curtain is removed, it has to be replaced immediately due to safety issues, which is an expensive process.
“We talked about that and some other issues that were mainly financial in nature,” Miller said. “We realize and understand that we’re dealing with several bureaucratic institutions at once. As much as we want to see these changes happen overnight, we understand there will be a longer process to them.”
The mascot had long been a point of contention between predominantly older groups of alumni, who wanted to keep the symbol, and current students and more recent graduates, who have pushed to remove it.
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.
During her call with CPS, Miller offered to do a walk through at Lane to help identify other problematic uses of the “Indian” symbolism at the school, she said.
The dialogue about Lane shows CPS is following through after its decision earlier this year to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, Miller said.
“I’m glad they’re committed to keep finding ways to have voices like ours, and especially from students, at the table when these key decisions are being made,” she said. “The kids have needs, too.”
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