Decision to Ban Indian Mascot Angers Maryland Town

A Poolesville school's venerated Indian mascot this week became the latest casualty in the growing crusade against Native American mascots, much to the chagrin of a good chunk of the town's 5,000 residents.

As part of a plan to remove all Indian-themed mascots from schools across the country, the Montgomery County school board agreed to pay $80,000 to Poolesville High School to change its mascot to something a little more politically correct.

The board also voted to establish a policy that prohibits schools in the county from using Indian names for team names, mascots or logos. The decision was meant as an expansion of its policy of prohibiting racial, gender or cultural stereotypes in school identities.

"There'll be some people who are disappointed in the board's decision but it's a strong community and they're gonna get over it rather quickly I would imagine," said Mark E. Levine, Poolesville High's principal.

And many locals are disappointed with the decision. When the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs asked Poolesville to voluntarily change its name last spring, the town took a vote and decided to keep the mascot. To make their wishes even more clear, they painted an Indian on the water tower facing the football field.

"We have many students in our school whose parents and grandparents went to Poolesville High School, so there's a lot of tradition and history there," Levine said.

But Indian Affairs Commission member Richard Regan, a Lumbee Cheraw Indian, said there shouldn't even have been a vote on what he calls a "racist" policy.

"When you think about it, the Poolesville vote was a vote about racism. We should never vote or have a referendum on racism or cultural insensitivity," Regan said. "We asked them in a polite way to remove the name, and when they heard our concerns they should have done it."

Regan has been pushing the board to take action since last March. He argued to the board that the use of Indian depictions was offensive, even "harassment" of Native American students.

"We feel like that type of harassment is really the same as sexual harassment or racial harassment, and disproportionately impacts American Indian kids academically in this school system," Regan said.

The lone dissenter on the Montgomery County board, Sharon Cox, said the decision was overblown.

"In Montgomery County, there is a very fine line between reasonable and absurd," she said. Cox wondered whether the school should now ban students from wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Washington Redskins football team logo.

The Montgomery County decision follows the state Board of Education's 10-2 vote earlier this year urging school districts to eliminate "the use of logos, mascots and team descriptions related to American Indians." The state board was urged to action by the Indian Affairs Commission. At least 30 schools in Maryland use Indian terms for their mascots.

That vote came after a plea by New York state officials that schools in that state get rid of all "Chiefs," "Braves," or "Indians" mascots. In July, a state board of education in Kansas made the same request.

The Montgomery County board agreed to pay the costs associated with changing the stationery, painting new logos, and establishing a new mascot for Poolesville.

But even the financial support doesn't sit well with some.

Graduate Michaela Szaley, a class of '83 swimmer and cheerleader, said, "Just the cost itself is a complete outrage. It's ridiculous. These kids for years have had this mascot and now they are going to have to spend all this money to change it. It's just ludicrous."

There are approximately 135,000 students in Montgomery County. About 400 students, or 0.3 percent, are Native Americans.

Fox News Correspondent Mike Hagerty contributed to this report.

Sharon Kehnemui is a digital marketing consultant and founder of Frequency Partners. She is a former senior politics editor for Follow her on Twitter @digisharon.