East Coweta High School: home of the Indians. ECHS is known for its purple and gold colors and most importantly, the Indian mascot.
The use of terms and images referring to Native Americans’ names or mascots for schools and sports teams is not an uncommon idea to those who live in the United States, and it has become a major topic of public controversy in America since the 1960s.
The issue has now been brought upon East Coweta High School, which is known for having an Indian as their mascot and practicing “Indian-like” traditions during football games.
A month ago, a petition was started by ECHS sophomore Hannah Lee, calling for the removal and change of East Coweta’s Indian mascot and the ban of wearing Native American headdresses. However, the petition has been subsequently modified to call for the ban of wearing headdresses and for the education of Native American culture to EC students.
The petition’s goal was to reach 3,000 signatures before the end of 2020. If reached, the petition would be forwarded to school authorities. However, in just one month, the petition has amassed over 4,500 signatures from people in the Coweta school district and those who live hundreds of miles away.
I spoke with Hannah about her intentions and aspirations for the petition.
“Originally, it was a collective question that I asked my friend group; the question was: ‘Why does ECHS have an Indian mascot?’ That question really got us thinking about what our school peers/staff had normalized. At first, the goal was to completely change the mascot into something else, but after speaking with Dr. Sneed (a Cherokee and Native American educator), we chose to reroute the goal. This is because the act of using a Native American as a mascot was to honor the people, not harm.
“After asking several Native American individuals about what they thought about what went on in our school (wearing headdresses, Halloween-like “Indian” clothing, etc.) we based our new goal to ban students from wearing headdresses and other Native American ‘garb.’ With the permission of the people we spoke to, we created a petition to try and reach the goal.”
To first understand why wearing Native American headdresses is culturally insensitive, one must learn the spiritual and historical importance behind such an item. “In [Native American communities] that traditionally have these items of regalia, [headdresses] are only to be worn by those who have earned the right and honour through formal recognition by their people.” Therefore, non-Natives must understand the offense and harm that Indigenous people feel when sacred objects and imagery are treated as costumes or mascots for non-Native people’s benefit.
In response to Hannah’s petition, there has been intense backlash and criticism from EC students and parents. Popular opposing arguments include the fact that wearing headdresses is part of “EC’s culture” and that “it isn’t a big deal.” A counter-petition to Hannah’s was started in reaction and reached over 2,500 signatures, alleging that wearing headdresses is not racist and should continue at East Coweta.
However, many associations say otherwise, including the American Psychological Association, who stated that Native American mascots “are teaching stereotypical, misleading and too often, insulting images of American Indians. These negative lessons are not just affecting American Indian students; they are sending the wrong message to all students.”
When asked what she hopes people would take into more consideration with Native culture, Hannah answered, “I can only ask that people seek the voices of the culture they are taking from and learn. I personally believe that education trumps out ignorance. If people begin to look outside of their own personal views and start taking in the perspectives of the people they are affecting, there could be meaningful change.”
She concludes, “I can’t say that all students are insensitive towards Native American people, but they are extremely educated. In this case, because multiple Cherokee, Lakota, Creek Indians have asked students to not wear headdresses and other American Indian garb, it is the community’s civic and moral duty to listen and do so.”
Having reached its goal, the petition has been sent to school officials and is awaiting their response.
Find Hannah’s petition here: https://www.change.org/p/superintendent-evan-horton-ban-wearing-headdresses-at-east-coweta-hs-educate-students-on-native-american-culture?redirect=false
Find the opposing petition here: