First, a Lawrence High School basketball player — frustrated by the use of the Shawnee Mission North High School’s Native American mascot and tomahawk chop during an away game — shared her thoughts about school spirit she considered “disrespectful” in an online post that was quickly shared.
Then, the Lawrence High School’s Inter-Tribal Club officially asked school officials to remove the Shawnee Mission North High School’s banner, featuring a Native American with a headdress, from a collection of Sunflower League banners outside the Lawrence school gym. The banner was removed this week with the approval of Athletic Director Bill DeWitt, according to the school’s student newspaper, the Budget.
This week, a Shawnee Mission School District official said the criticism will not affect a “proud tradition” within the Shawnee Mission North community.
“We are not planning to change the name of our school district, or high school mascots,” district communications director Erin Little said in a statement to media Wednesday. “In fact, we are proud of our native American heritage.”
Little said the Shawnee Mission area and school district were named after the Shawnee Nation Tribe. According to her statement, the Shawnee Mission School District in 1992 “communicated directly with the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and received written correspondence that the tribe was proud to lend its name and support to the education of America’s youth.”
The tribe, Little said in the statement, told the school district then that the use of “costumed youth as mascots was not offensive or degrading.”
The current chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma told the Budget that she has not had any contact with Shawnee Mission North since she became chief in 2006.
“I don’t think they should automatically dismiss” concerns, Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma Chief Glenna Wallace told a Lawrence student reporter.
A post by Lawrence High School senior Madison McKinney prompted conversation about the appropriateness of the Shawnee Mission North mascot after an away game at Shawnee Mission North on Valentine’s Day.
“I dread playing here at Shawnee Mission North,” McKinney, a basketball player, wrote. “Having an ‘Indian’ as your mascot is bad enough, but to have your school call their values ‘tribal tenants,’ your band yell ‘do it for your culture’ during our free throws, and to do the tomahawk chop during the starting lineup... this is beyond disrespectful. I’m so irritated and pissed off that this is still happening.”
The post was shared 503 times. The school’s Inter-Tribal club, made up of indigenous students who want to promote awareness for their culture, asked for the Shawnee Mission North banner to be removed last Friday. McKinney appears to be an officer, according to the group’s Facebook page.
“We are taking direct action to support and protect our Indigenous population at LHS,” the group posted. “We are proud of our school and stand in solidarity with each other. Our goal is making the positive change we want to see.”
Controversies over Native American-themed mascots are not a new issue for school districts, and Kansas is no exception. National and state debates about the issue often expose deep divides between those who want to honor longstanding academic and athletic traditions that use Native American culture and those who think those traditions perpetuate stereotypes and glamorize the nation’s dark history of mistreating indigenous people.
At least 14 Kansas high schools have Indians as official mascots.
DeWitt told the Budget that he had already stopped using images of the Shawnee Mission North mascot on the school’s Twitter feed. He said he supported the removal of the banner, though Lawrence High School reportedly replaced all its banners with those that don’t use mascots this week.