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Wisconsin establishes process for banning racial nicknames and logos

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has signed the nation's first state law establishing a process for ending the use of Native American mascots, nicknames and logos "in ways that portray racial stereotyping and disrespect of our native citizens."...

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has signed the nation's first state law establishing a process for ending the use of Native American mascots, nicknames and logos "in ways that portray racial stereotyping and disrespect of our native citizens."

Doyle signed the measure Wednesday.

"The marginalization of a portion of our population should not be tolerated," state Rep. Jim Soletski, a Democrat from Green Bay and co-author of the bill, said in a written statement released Thursday.

"No race of people should be portrayed as others' mascots," he said. "We are finally according our fellow citizens an opportunity to receive the respect that they deserve.

"Wisconsin now leads in the effort to respect all people."


Soletski said the argument often was made during the years of debate over the legislation that it should be a matter of local control.

"However, it is important to note that the use of race-based nicknames, mascots or logos is not just a local issue," he said. "Local control is appropriate only when dealing with issues whose impact is exclusively within a school district. The use of race-based nicknames, mascots or logos is interscholastic by nature and, thus, affects other students and communities.

"Research has determined that exposure to such race-based athletic references reduces the self-esteem and causes other harmful psychological effects to American Indian students."

The new law "will not prohibit school districts from taking the initiative to act locally to make change, as many have done," he said, but such local efforts often have divided communities.

"The issue has become too emotional to be dealt with objectively or safely, as demonstrated by the fact that American Indian families have been subjected to threats and violence when they have asked their local school board to eliminate the school's racial nickname, mascot or logo," Soletski said.

"The new law will afford an important option, allowing for a third party, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, to hear complaints about the use of race-based nicknames, mascots or logos."

Applauded in N.D.

Erich Longie, a leading opponent of UND's Fighting Sioux nickname and logo on the Spirit Lake Sioux reservation, said Wisconsin's new law "will make it more difficult for pro-logo people to justify keeping the name."


The law "basically outlaws Indian mascots and logos and sends a message" well beyond Wisconsin's borders, he said.

"It's a huge precedent," Longie said. "It provides a strong argument for anti-logo people everywhere. They're going to point to Wisconsin and say they came into the 21st century, why can't we?"

Longie said he was pleased and a little surprised that the Fighting Sioux name and logo appear to be on the way out, barring a last-minute change in attitude from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the State Board of Higher Education.

"I used to say it probably won't happen in my lifetime," he said. "Lo and behold, the nickname is not only retired but we're also fighting off efforts to reinstate it.

"I guess maybe I misjudged the people of North Dakota. I know there are a lot out there who have no feeling one way or the other and just want to get over this. But maybe there are a lot more out there who are progressive and understand why such mascots and logos are hostile."

Archie Fool Bear, a leading nickname supporter at Standing Rock, said the Wisconsin action "doesn't change anything" in the ongoing effort to retain the Fighting Sioux logo.

"I'm still standing on the ground that we committed a ceremony and that's where we should stand," he said. Logo supporters believe that a 1969 tribal ceremony at Standing Rock authorized UND to use the Sioux name.

"That's as strong as a bind can be," he said, "and the council can't take that away. Wisconsin has the right to say and do what they want, and if their tribes want to do it this way, fine. But we are the Great Sioux Nation."


Similar to NCAA

The Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel newspaper in Milwaukee applauded the new law, noting that the legislation would allow a school district to show that its mascot is not discriminatory based on approval by a federally recognized American Indian tribe -- a provision similar to the NCAA policy that UND has sought to comply with by winning Spirit Lake and Standing Rock approval for its use of Fighting Sioux.

The Green Bay Press Gazette also approved:

"The bill's impending passage into law offers a teachable moment about race relations. Now would be a good time for schools to talk frankly with students and their parents about why society has allowed sports teams to reinforce stereotypes of Native Americans and why it's time for schools to let them go."

Barbara Munson, a member of the Oneida tribe and chairwoman of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association's taskforce on Indian nicknames, also celebrated the signing of the law.

"I have seen the best spirit of Wisconsin in action -- people of all ages, races and ethnicities working together to make things better for all the children in our state," she said.

"I am in awe of the deep caring I have seen expressed in the nearly 20 years I have been privileged to work on this issue. While we Native people have led this struggle, we have been assisted by an amazing coalition of allies from all walks of life throughout Wisconsin."

Munson noted that the legislation was written by Sen. Spencer Coggs, an African American who represents Milwaukee, and Rep. Soletski, a Polish-American.


"Several legislators, from both political parties, have schools with race-based identities within their senate and assembly districts and have still had the courage to take a moral stand on behalf of the indigenous people of our state," she said.

Since the formation of the task force in 1997, it has sought to remove "Indian" mascots, logos and nicknames from Wisconsin's public schools through education, advocacy and legislation.

Thirty-six schools in Wisconsin still have some form of race-based nicknames and logos, but 28 others recently have changed.

At the bill signing, Munson spoke to the 36 schools whose athletic teams are still identified as "Indians" or "Warriors" or other race-based names.

"I encourage you to reframe your view from one of local control to one of seeking social justice," she said. "Focus on the education policy issue of pupil nondiscrimination and educate yourselves as to the harm caused by the practice of stereotyping.

"I know you can do this and that after you do, you will find, like the 28 that have already accomplished it, that there is life after logo change. You will be proud of the young people who represent your school in interscholastic competition under a new identifying symbol and you will be free of the nagging question of whether your symbol and actions are harmful to some of your children or to children from neighboring communities."

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to chaga@gfherald.com .

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