In 2012, MaxPreps reported that “Indians” was the #4 most popular mascot for Kansas high schools. Today, nearly 1 out of every 10 schools in the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) appropriates Native imagery or culture. It’s not just the schools with “Indians” mascots; it’s also the “Chieftains”, “Braves”, ”Warriors”, “Red Raiders”, “Redmen”, and even the racial slur “R*dskins” that schools are using. These problematic mascots aren’t just limited to the racial stereotypes and caricatures of Native Americans, but schools also appropriate cultural symbols like thunderbirds, which are sacred manitous in many tribal beliefs.
Social pressure in 2020 prompted professional sports teams like the Washington Football Team and the Cleveland Baseball Team to change their mascots, and that social pressure is now being felt by local high schools.
Wichita Public Schools announced on Facebook, “… it is time to have a community conversation to change the North High mascot.” Other school boards are also addressing community concerns like Manhattan High which voted 4-3 to revisit their mascot.
Public discussion on mascots has prompted activism from local communities. Hays High alumna Delphine Burns created an online petition to change the school’s mascot which was met with an opposing petition days later by current Hays High student Cade Becker to keep it. Even future students are getting involved; 11 year old Halley Vincent has been collecting letters to present to her local school board to change the Shawnee Mission North High mascot and to acknowledge the history of the school and town in relation to the Shawnee people.
Despite the recent rise in public discussion and awareness surrounding Native mascots, organizations like the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has been opposing the use of Native mascots for decades having launched their first public campaign in 1968. The American Psychological Association (APA) has corroborated the long held beliefs of these organizations that American Indian mascots are harmful, and in 2005 the APA called for, “the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations.”
Fifteen years later, local organizations like the Not In Our Honor coalition are still needed to advocate against the use of Native themed mascots. While school boards and communities are contemplating making the change, Rhonda LeValdo from the Not In Our Honor coalition feels that broader guidance from Kansas legislation is needed. LeValdo plans to present a community led bill in 2021 banning Native mascots in Kansas public schools.