Maine West ending American Indian mascot at games and assemblies

Administrators at Maine West High School said Monday that the Des Plaines school is ending its decades-old tradition of having a person dressed as an American Indian dance at school assemblies and athletic events.

The mascot had drawn the ire of some American Indians after photos and video of a student dressed in the buckskin costume and feathered headdress appeared on social media. After the controversy that followed, Principal Audrey Haugan announced the mascot would be retired.

In an email to parents, Haugan said the school will still be called the Warriors but will organize a committee to work out “the details of our representation moving forward, noting the positive attributes of what a Maine West Warrior represents.”

Until now, the school had managed to evade the criticism that led other schools to eliminate American Indian-themed mascots.

But when Brett Chapman, an Oklahoma attorney and member of the Pawnee Nation, tweeted about the mascot, which he called racist, Cherokee Nation officials responded.

“The Cherokee Nation did not endorse Maine Township High School West's warrior mascot 20 years ago, and certainly does not approve of its use today,” Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskins Jr. said in a statement in March.

Chapman said in April this particular case drew his attention because school administrators “claim to have some moral authority from a … legally recognized tribe” in using the mascot.

In 1994, Mary Littlefield, a poet laureate emeritus of the Cherokee Nation, dedicated a poem to the school. Years later, she said the mascot didn't offend American Indians.

But many American Indian groups, including the National Congress of American Indians, say such mascots are harmful and derogatory.

A 2014 study by the American University Washington College of Law found American Indian mascots “resulted in lower self-esteem, sense of community worth, and views of students' own potential.”

Now administrators say it's time to let the mascot go.

“While we have weighed and considered many points of view, Maine West is moving forward with the course that we believe best honors tradition while eliminating practices that are increasingly viewed as insensitive or demeaning,” Haugan said in the email.

The school's logo still shows an American Indian's face, but a spokesman for the district said administrators haven't determined whether that image will change as well.

Daily Herald staff writer Chacour Koop contributed to this report.

Maine West High School criticized over Native American mascot

Maine West's athletes still will be known as the Warriors, but the Des Plaines high school no longer will feature a student dressed in a buckskin costume and feathered headdress at games. Daily Herald file photo
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