Now is the Time to Stop Supporting Awful, Racist School Mascots

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) wants to get rid of culturally insensitive mascots. In a vote held earlier this year, the ETFO decided to lobby against the use of stereotypical indigenous imagery, and similar proprietary references, that is currently used in Ontario’s elementary school mascots. Which means goodbye, Indians, Wolves, Hawks, Chiefs and more.

This is in an initiative that should be adopted by high schools and post secondary institutions.

“If we don’t change perception, we aren’t going to solve the larger issues”

Controversy over indigenous-inspired mascots isn’t new. It’s been a conversation topic in commercial sports for years, most famously surrounding the Washington Redskins, and more recently, around the Cleveland Indians. Arguments in the debate are as follows:

Against Rebranding

  • Keeping indigenous symbology is a sign of respect towards First Nations communities.
  • It’s expensive. “I don’t have a problem with it, but as a school district there is going to be a negative impact on the budget,” said Randy Miller, superintendent to a Colorado school district, to The Watchdog. It recently cost an Ontario elementary school about $20,000 to make the fix.

For Rebranding

  • Mascots inaccurately represent indigenous people, often making them resemble apes, and are evidence of discriminatory scientific racism
  • No other ethnic group today can be legally subjected to representation of this sort in Canada.
  • Brad Gallant, who has recently been making headlines for his fight against indigenous mascots, said to us, “If we don’t change perception, we aren’t going to solve the larger issues”

But here’s the deal; the ETFO isn’t close to inciting powerful official action. According to an email from an ETFO spokesperson, the group’s next step is to “plan a course of action” to lobby school boards. They must first do so successfully for the motion to be passed.

You’d be hard pressed to find a school who has or is in the process of changing their mascot. We were only able to find one high school in Calgary who made a switch two years ago, to the tune of about $200,000.

Why, then, are indigenous-inspired mascots making headlines at Toronto Star, Huffington Post, and other news sources?

Equity issues rooted in indigenous mascots are a powerful gateway to ignite discourse into overall Aboriginal issues.

It’s a bait-and-switch. The significance of mascot rebranding isn’t an updated logo, but that aboriginal rights are becoming the topic of large-scale conversations. Equity issues rooted in indigenous mascots are a powerful gateway to ignite discourse into overall Aboriginal issues. The fact is, indigenous communities across Ontario are victims to shameless crimes of discrimination, the smallest of which show themselves through school mascots. Today’s First Nations’ reserves (some of them as close as an hour’s drive to Toronto) suffer from obscenely high cancer incidence, birth defect, and unemployment rates.

There are First Nation communities who live under years-old “Boil Water” advisories—meaning their water isn’t safe to drink. It’s as a result of industrial activity, and they aren’t compensated for it. Suicide rates on First Nations reserves are also heartbreakingly high.

Until now, this hasn’t been a mainstream issue. But once the question of mascots is resolved, what’s next? “Maybe I’m naive,” said Gallant over the phone, “or maybe this will be the thing that sets everything off.”

Today’s war on indigenous-inspired mascots is an example of how nothing exists in a vacuum.

What education does right (if you choose to pay attention), is teach us to spot relationships—whether between numbers, themes, or conversations is irrelevant. Today’s war on indigenous-inspired mascots is an example of how nothing exists in a vacuum.

Hopefully, soon we’ll be discussing other, larger Aboriginal issues passionately, too. So, going forward, keep your eyes peeled for similar, greater implications of relatively small developments. We’re watching this butterfly’s wings cause a storm of change, and it’s pretty cool.

Dana Iskoldski

Dana Iskoldski

Dana Iskoldski is the Editor-At-Large at Student Life Network and CampusRankings.