BY ANNISTON WEBER
In 2005, the American Psychological Association called for the “immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations.”
The APA claims their position is based on a “growing body of social science literature that shows the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals.”
At Hays High School, the mascot remains as the Indians, and the campus contains Native American imagery such as a totem pole outside of the school’s entrance, a statue of a Native American person in ceremonial clothing and a painting of a Native American in a headdress inside of the gym.
Delphine Burns, a 2013 alumna of Hays High, said she noticed other alumni of the school expressing that the mascot should be changed, which prompted her to create a petition to have it removed.
“As I’ve reflected on how I’ve been complicit in various systems of oppression, this mascot came to my mind a few years ago but I did nothing about it,” Burns said. “I thought a petition was a practical first step toward positive change.”
In her petition statement, Burns said, “The Hays High mascot is a blatant display of racism. The mascot represents a Native American person at a predominately white high school. The mascot is also called an ‘Indian’ while intended to represent a Native American person.”
At the time of writing, Burns’ petition has more than 700 virtual signatures attached to it.
“Native American representation has been appropriated by non-Natives for far too long,” Abraham Taylor replied to the petition. “It’s time to evolve as a society and make these changes.”
Another response by Jennifer Burke said, “I have shared sentiments of removing the mascot as an alum for many years now. It’s time for the inevitable change and Hays has an opportunity here to lead by example.”
However, the petition to remove the Hays High mascot has been met with community resistance. Cade Becker, an incoming sophomore at Hays High, took notice of the petition and decided to create a counter-petition expressing that the mascot should stay.
“There are thousands of people in this area that see Hays High and the Indians as their team,” Becker said. “The mascot is a symbol of home, strength and bravery. It is the mascot that all of the athletes follow. It is the mark of our school. We have a great school, and we can’t let a large part of it change.”
In his petition statement, Becker said, “This has been our symbol for too long, and we shall not let them take it away. It shows no racial issues or any other type of discrimination. There is no racism shown. It’s a symbol of a race, but not a display of racism.”
At the time of publication, Becker’s petition has more than 2,000 virtual signatures attached to it.
“I’m signing this because it is absolutely stupid and uncalled for that they are even discussing this,” Caty Doty said in response to the counter-petition. “This is a part of history that we are ruining by trying to get rid of our symbol.”
Janice Bieker said in response to the counter-petition, “A mascot is something a team chooses as a sign of respect. Hays is my hometown and I am hoping that the people there keep their heads on straight and stop getting offended by everything.”
Becker said he is proud of the support his petition has gathered from community members.
“I wanted to do what I thought was right,” Becker said. “Students and alumni have many memories attached to our mascot.”
Burns said she doesn’t mind the presence of the counter-petition.
“I fundamentally believe in the right to petition,” she said. “Every time it’s shared, it’s an opportunity for more dialogue and discourse about a really important issue that has remained largely undiscussed for a long time. I would implore those signing either petitions to read more about how Native American communities are hurt by racist stereotypes and mascots.”
Martin Straub, who has been the principal of Hays High for seven years and was the assistant principal for 19 years, said the topic of a mascot change has been around for approximately15 years, mentioning students who were on the staff of the high school newspaper wrote about the subject occasionally.
According to Straub, if the mascot were to change, it would have to involve community patrons since Hays High is a public school.
“There will be some expense changing signage, documents, stationary, business cards,” he said. “If the mascot is changed, we’ll have to choose a mascot that is a good fit using a process that is inclusive.”
Straub also said since COVID-19 has required so much time and attention from the school, it would be challenging to allocate time to address the issue. However, he understands there are strong feelings on both sides of the argument.
“Anything is possible,” he said. “Hays High is an inclusive and welcoming place.”
If Hays High were to move forward with changing the mascot, Burns said she would help organize funds in any way she could.
“I’d be happy to organize a virtual fundraiser,” she said. “Additionally, I believe changing the mascot could be a really positive opportunity for student and community engagement. Hays High administrators could request suggestions for a new mascot from students and alumni, and it could be a fun way for the community to engage since the school year was cut short due to the pandemic.”
As the petitions circulate through social media, former students are expressing their opinions on whether or not they believe the mascot should undergo a change.
Madison Crees, a 2017 graduate, said her emotions regarding the counter-petition are emotional and lengthy.
“Using a race as a character is absolutely racism in action. It takes away from the culture, strength and history of a race and depletes it down to nothing more than a source of entertainment,” Crees said. “I have noticed blatant racism accompanying the counter-petition. I see people who I grew up with who are going into fields and positions where they need to help BIPOC (black and indigenous people of color) and still choose to spew hate and racism about those groups.”
Former Hays resident Jess Carreira said she supports the decision to remove the mascot because of a trip she took to Standing Rock.
“While we were there, they asked us to turn all of our school shirts with Native imagery on them inside out,” Carreira said. “Why do you think that is, if not for being offensive to the tribe we were visiting?”
Aurelia Romero, a former Hays High student, said her Native heritage influenced her to sign the first petition.
“My blood comes from the Apache and Cherokee tribes,” Romero said. “During my time at Hays High, I would get little comments about my appearance because of my skin.”
Romero said she would be happy to see Hays High implementing more time to teaching about Native American history.
“If they can’t change the mascot, I think they should get a class where they teach students the histories of Native Americans more in-depth than they do in the typical social studies course,” she said. “Just to appreciate what kind of humans they are.”
Eli Booth, a 2019 graduate of Hays High, said he thinks the mascot should remain the same because he believes the school should teach, embrace and celebrate Native culture.
“If we educated in Native culture and displayed positivity surrounding the mascot, I think we’d be embracing the culture,” Booth said. “There’s finally light on the situation, so no matter what route Hays High takes there should be good coming out of this.”
Lexie Reinhardt, a 2015 graduate, said she has Native heritage from her grandfather’s side, with her great-grandma being a Cherokee Native. However, she said she disagrees with the numerous people coming forward to claim they have Native heritage only to agree or disagree about the mascot change.
“If you cheered on the government while they shot rubber bullets at Native Americans at Standing Rock or if you’re silent on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, then I don’t feel like you really get to choose to speak on how all of a sudden you’re 0.006% Native,” Reinhardt said. “I don’t want to be like, ‘Oh you’re too white to be Native,’ but I feel like a lot of people are claiming a Native heritage to suppress and silence the voices of those who have direct ties.”
The petitions that Burns and Becker created have launched a community-wide discussion, leaving people on both sides of the issue feeling hopeful to see what comes of the situation.
“I understand that this change cannot happen overnight,” Burns said. “I think a really positive first step would be an opportunity to discuss this with the school board. If Hays High is going to maintain this mascot, we could all at least learn more about the indigenous communities we are claiming to honor.”
The petition to change the HHS mascot can be found here.
The petition to keep the HHS mascot the same can be found here.