For two hours on Wednesday evening, a panel of invited guests answered questions on the Teton High School mascot in front of about 140 people from the Teton Valley community.
With less than two weeks before the local school board will consider public comments to gauge whether the school’s “Redskins” mascot should retire or remain, Native Americans on the panel all agreed Wednesday that the mascot should change. Furthermore the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe’s public affairs manager announced during the event that the tribe will be leading efforts to change similar mascots statewide.
“My kids attend Teton School District 401,” said panelist Michelle Beitinger, who lives in Teton Valley and is a descendant of Washington state’s Colville Confederated Tribes. “It is very important to me that they grow up respecting all individuals, and I believe our current mascot does not do that.”
Members of the panel also included Randy‘L Teton and Larry Teton, members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, closest to Driggs and has ancestral lands in Teton Valley; Amanda Blackhorse, an activist and member of the Navajo Nation; and Northern Arapaho member Sergio Maldonado who travelled from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming for the evening’s event.
“I am Northern Arapaho and Mexican-American,” said Moldonado. “I am not a ‘redskin.’ I am a human being with children and grandchildren and thousands of students who I have worked with. Utilizing an Indian or tribal mascot is nothing more than a veiled attempt at hate speech. That’s all it is. Let’s be pragmatic. You want to put your cards on the table, put your cards on the table face up. Let us know where you are.”
The event was planned by a handful of community members, including Dale Sharkey and Sue Berkenfield, who introduced the evening’s moderator, Marcia Franklin, a producer and host with Idaho Public Television in Boise. Sharkey said a few weeks ago that the hope was to bring Native American voices into the conversation, specifically local and regional tribes.
Two members of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, Randy’L Teton and her uncle, Larry Teton, had weathered the 2013 debate about the Teton High School mascot. It was Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme who first brought the idea of changing the mascot to the school board six years ago. Randy’L reminded the community that at that time, Woolstenhumle went to the tribe located in Fort Hall and asked how her community felt about “redskin.”
“We had the superintendent come to us and ask us in our tribal government what we thought,” said Randy’L of 2013. “That means a lot. In my line of work, that’s important. It’s important to build those relationships so we can communicate, so we can talk together about whatever it is — health, education, economic development — it all goes hand in hand as neighbors, and that’s what we are, neighbors.”
Randy’L was the model for the Sacajawea dollar coin that was in circulation from 2000 to 2001, and again from 2009 to 2011. She is the only living person to have her likeness appear on United States currency.
In 2013 Woolstenhulme told the school board that he was making the decision to remove the mascot from Teton High School despite generations of his own family who had graduated from the school as Redskins, himself included. The school board at the time, moved by public pressure, opened the conversation up to the greater community. In a historic meeting which filled the Teton High School auditorium, public comment loudly protested the decision. Woolstenhulme conceded at the end of the meeting, which left some school board members in tears because of the intensity of the evening.
As the public affairs manager for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, Randy’L said at the panel event that the mascot issue is just part of the statewide initiative for change.
“We have officially approved a position paper and taking the steps needed to make changes throughout the state,” said Randy’L at the event. “This isn’t just happening in Driggs. We are hoping to make changes statewide,” she said, making reference to the Pocatello Indians and Salmon Savages specifically.
Members of the Save the Redskins group were in attendance that evening, having set up a table just outside of the high school auditorium and wearing “Save the Redskins” T-shirts. The closed Facebook group, which has about 1,100 members, had supported a local panel discussion of the Native American Guardians Association. At that event in early June, members of NAGA spoke about saving the imagery of Native American culture through school and sports mascots. During that presentation, members of NAGA said community members who support the name “Redskin” are not racist and that people who are seeking to change the name, specifically people who move into a community, should be challenged.
But on Wednesday evening, when asked what they thought about NAGA, Amanda Blackhorse, a national advocate for changing the mascot, said the word “redskin” is a racial slur and her only interaction with NAGA members came in the form of what she felt were threats against her.
Additionally, Randy’L called into question a NAGA member’s tribal membership, specifically challenging Mark Onewolf’s claim that he is a member of the Apache Tribe.
Randy’L explained the history of boarding schools in the area, saying that when the Native Americans were told to leave this area, they were told not to use their native language. She became emotional while explaining that generations in her family cannot speak the Shoshone language because of this history. She added that now the reservation had a school specifically to teach young children entering Kindergarten the native language, thus preserving the history and culture for future generations.
“We now have our young children learning to speak our language that just 100 years ago we were forced to not speak our language,” said Randy’L. “This is all part of this whole issue with the mascot. Know what you are representing. You are representing people.”
Beitinger closed by reading the Teton School District mission statement and said that the mascot does not embody the section that defines education as safe and respectful.
Victor resident Stephanie Crockett urged the board to reconsider changing the mascot during March’s school board meeting. The board of trustees for Teton School District 401 will discuss the Teton High School mascot at its regularly scheduled meeting on July 8. Public comment will be taken on the issue at that time.