Daily Herald opinion: Waubonsie Valley High School earns high marks for approach to Potawatomi history
In the often-clashing interests of historical accuracy, pride in our nation's past and new perspectives on disturbing but once-accepted beliefs, little room has been left for nuance.
That's why Waubonsie Valley High School's ability to re-examine -- and reframe -- its Warriors nickname and imagery of the past regarding Chief Waubonsie and the Potawatomi people is so impressive.
Principal Jason Stipp told Daily Herald reporter Kevin Schmit that the intention years ago was to recognize the Potawatomi people and honor the chief, but what resulted was more of a "Hollywood approach," including inaccurate desert scenes with shirtless "Indian Warriors" in the Aurora school's colors. So he formed a committee to research what changes they might adopt to correct historical inaccuracies and educate students, faculty and visitors.
They opted to keep the Warriors name. But school officials took steps to remove offensive or incorrect portrayals of Native Americans. And in their place, they planned murals and other items acknowledging the First People, who lost their land to the government and were forced into Oklahoma.
"We have not told this story correctly," Stipp said. "We're not erasing history. We want to be more true to what that history is."
It's an admirable goal.
Last week, school officials unveiled a 46-by-14-foot mural that features a portrait of Waubonsie as well as a landscape that includes the Potawatomi people paddling canoes along a river. Additional images capturing the accurate dress and activities of the Potawatami are showcased on an LED-lit storyboard in front of the mural. Signs offer more history, and an acknowledgment plaque explains the changes.
Those who worked on the mural made sure to research the past and consult with experts and Potawatomi descendants.
This year, the school plans to design a new crest to replace the current image of tomahawks and a headdress-wearing Native American.
While it would have been easy to simply ditch what was offensive or inaccurate, the school has opted for a broader and better way to correct misguided representations of the past. Officials there chose to educate and enlighten, rather than erase. By doing so, they are teaching their students that perspectives on history evolve.
Owning up to our mistakes is an important first step.