Civil rights resources should be redirectedPublished 7:59pm Thursday, February 14, 2013
Dowagiac Union Schools and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians were blindsided Friday by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) stealthily filing a federal discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, asking it to prohibit use of American Indian mascots in 35 state K-12 schools.
There was no forewarning because MDCR knows this is an emotional issue for Dowagiac Chieftains, Hartford Indians, White Pigeon Chiefs, Paw Paw Redskins and the others.
It was filed on Feb. 8 because of the Dawes Act of 1877, when Congress authorized the President of the United States to survey Indian tribal land and divide it into allotments for individual Indians.
Dowagiac became the Chieftains in 1928.
We agree with state Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, who said MDCR overstepped its authority by taking the issue to a federal agency.
“This issue should be deliberated by a local or state board, not brought to a federal agency with little or no discussion among those directly affected,” the Van Buren lawmaker said, calling for its rescinsion.
It came as a shock here and why Supt. Dr. Mark Daniel wants a dialogue with the tribe. The schools and Pokagon Band signed a joint resolution 23 years ago in March 1990 to insure the spirit of mutual cooperation and respect for many future generations.
That agreement included adoption of the official logo accurately depicting a Potawatomi chief created by Pokagon Band member Ron Mix.
One provision in the filing seems to provide an out if the OCR concurs: where limited uses of images, particularly the use of names of locally significant tribes or tribal persons with tribal support for doing so, can be done in a way that is respectful and which does not reinforce any singular limiting image of Indian peoples, they may be continued, but only within guidelines provided by OCR.
MDCR’s 34-page complaint asserts new research clearly establishes that use of American Indian imagery negatively impacts student learning.
We posted this on Facebook Friday and the 66 comments, including some Native Americans, came down almost universally against MDNR’s action, which casts them as over-reaching bureaucrats with their own agenda.
The complaint even invokes Hitler: “Few, if any, would not find it offensive if schools in Germany today were to adopt Jewish nicknames in ‘honor’ of those who perished in the Holocaust. Nor will the passage of another 50 or 100 years make it appropriate for them to do so. Even if enacted with good intentions and tasteful images, we would immediately recognize that they were at the very least trivializing (if not ignoring or even denying) their past and, in doing so, insulting the descendants of their victims. In fact, Hitler studied the way America dealt with its ‘Indian problem’ in great detail. He was a great admirer of the methods used to make land available for a ‘superior’ people and is believed to have used it as model for his solution to the ‘Jewish problem’ in Europe. There is no question that he believed the most significant lesson to be learned was how soon people would forget.”