'It's really disheartening.' Some upset about Maine West getting rid of mascot

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the name of Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr.

Reactions both pro and con from students, alumni and American Indian groups came the day after Maine West High School's decision to do away with its Warrior mascot that performed at athletic events and school assemblies since the late 1970s.

Brett Chapman, the Oklahoma attorney and Pawnee Nation member whose Twitter post about the mascot in March led to a social media firestorm, applauded the decision announced Monday by Principal Audrey Haugan.

"I want to commend Dr. Haugan on her expedient attention to this issue and resolution on it in a quick manner like that," Chapman said. "I think these issues sometimes with mascots can drag on for a long time. Dr. Haugan, in emails I exchanged with her, always was professional, courteous and said she would give it her full attention."

Others, like Keith Kehl, who portrayed the chief as a student from 1982 to 1985, said the decision was "wiping away history" and a quick reaction to recent social media outcry.

"It's really disheartening," Kehl said. "It's one individual who didn't go to school there who chimed in saying it's not the right thing, but had no premise to understand what it meant to the school and community."

"None of us look at the chief of Maine West as a mascot," Kehl said. "We look at him as a leader who embodies integrity and moral values and is seen as a leader of the school."

Haugan, in an email to school staff members and parents Monday, said the wide spectrum of viewpoints the school heard in recent weeks "makes it obvious that there is no decision or path that would be met with approval by all."

"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 decision was reached over the course of several meetings involving Haugan, assistant principals, deans, department chairs and the athletic director, said Dave Beery, a spokesman for Maine Township High School District 207.

"It was a consensus decision," Beery said.

Maine West officials also consulted Superintendent Ken Wallace and district leadership, Beery said. While Wallace kept the school board apprised of the discussions, board members did not take a vote on whether the mascot should stay or go.

While the mascot and associated costume and dance are being retired, the school is keeping the Warrior name "but will focus on the key elements of what it means to be a warrior: leadership, integrity, responsibility, respect and empathy," Haugan wrote.

What's still to be determined is whether the school will keep its logo that shows an American Indian's face. It is depicted on everything from spirit wear to a painting in the school gym.

Haugan and John Aldworth, the assistant principal for students, will lead a committee of students and staff members over the next few months "in determining the details of our representation moving forward, noting the positive attributes of what a Maine West Warrior represents," Haugan wrote.

School officials said until recently they were under the impression that the mascot was not offensive. In 1994, Mary Littlefield, a poet laureate emeritus of the Cherokee Nation, visited Maine West and dedicated a poem to the school.

But the Cherokee Nation said it never endorsed Maine West's use of the mascot.

On Tuesday, Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. commended the school for its decision.

"A lot of institutions and organizations in this country are in the midst of that debate and in most cases, digging in their heels," Hoskin said. "This was a teaching moment for the school. They certainly taught their students, but in some ways because of how quickly they made a change, it is for other organizations (too)."

"This school in Illinois quickly realized they were in error, took action, the sky didn't fall, and the school was better for it," Hoskin said.

Outside Maine West at dismissal time Tuesday, students continued to weigh in on the controversy - an extension of discussions that took place in many classes after the decision was announced Monday. Many disagreed with the move.

"It's been here throughout the years and I think it should stay like that," said Yasmin Muniz, a sophomore, who was wearing a "West is Best" shirt with a Warrior logo.

Nick Weyna, a sophomore, said he believes the mascot was respectful and represented the ideals of leadership and school pride.

"It's how a lot of people identify us," he said.

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Maine West High School officials are getting rid of the school's Warrior mascot that performed at games and school events, but they haven't yet decided if the logo will remain. Daily Herald File Photo, 2015
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