Seventeen years after previous board members voted unanimously to keep Union Public Schools’ mascot, today’s board members decided unanimously Monday to begin a process that seems likely to lead to the end of the Redskins name and logo.

The board will appoint a committee that will spend the rest of 2020 studying the issue, with members including advisers from the Creek and Cherokee nations. Specific people haven’t been named, but other committee members will include students, faculty and alumni, with the goal of recommending by December whether to keep the mascot.

While saying the committee would be free to support keeping the mascot, Superintendent Kirt Hartzler reiterated his call to change it.

“In a democracy,” he said, “each generation has to make its own decision.”

The move came the same day the NFL franchise in Washington, D.C., announced that it will change its Redskins name and mascot. But the timing was mostly coincidental, Union officials said, insisting that their decision would be independent.

The board would have discussed changing the mascot this fall regardless of the NFL team, said board member Ken Kinnear.

“It obviously has been accelerated” because of the national discussion, he said.

While many Native Americans take offense at the term, “it was never intended that way” when Union chose the mascot in 1945, Kinnear said.

In 2003, more than 100 people attended a Union school board meeting when members voted unanimously to keep the mascot. At the time, most attendees approved of the decision, saying the term represented a strong, positive figure.

Michael Hamilton watched his father defend the name then and was the sole speaker Monday to urge the board to keep the mascot.

“You’re going to offend tens of thousands of people who take pride in the name,” he said, suggesting that most supporters felt too intimidated to speak out.

“We look at it as prideful. Redskins were tough. They were warriors.”

Critics say the term historically referred to the scalp of a slain American Indian sold for bounty.

One parent described her Native American daughter only pretending to chant the name while serving as a Union cheerleader. Another said her sons played sports for Union but refused to wear the team logo except on the field, when they had no choice.

“It’s not only disrespectful to Native Americans,” said a fifth grader who gave her name only as Daisy. “It’s disrespectful to the students at Union who have to be involved in this continuous conversation.”

Dozens of protesters gathered outside before the board meeting began to urge members to ditch the mascot.

“We’re living in a teachable moment,” said one protester who gave his name only as Julian B. “If there was ever a time to make a change and teach children that racism is not OK, this is it.

“Bottom line, it’s all about education, and this is an educational institution.”


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