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Madison school district bans American Indian team logos

Sports fans may have to leave their Blackhawks, Indians or Redskins gear at home if they plan on entering a Madison public school next year.

Starting this fall, public school students in Wisconsin’s capital city cannot wear shirts, hats or other items that display the name, logo or mascot of any team that portrays a “negative stereotype” of American Indians. Those who do must change or face suspension or expulsion.

The existence of these mascots destroys our self-esteem. The existence of these mascots shows us how people really think of us,” Gabriel Saiz, a junior at Madison West High, told the city school board in May shortly before it voted unanimously to adopt the policy.

The district’s dress code says a list of prohibited logos and mascots would be made available before the beginning of the school year.

The move comes some two years after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a law that made it harder for the state’s public schools to drop tribal nicknames. The measure was prompted by officials in a handful of Wisconsin cities who refused to part with mascots such as the Chieftains and the Indians after the state Department of Public instruction ordered them to drop the monikers. Previous state law allowed the state agency to launch a hearing into each race-based nickname with a single complaint. Current law requires a petition to trigger the hearing.

Larry Dupuis, legal director for American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said he was not pleased with the Madison school district’s move. He said it limits students’ free speech and seems counterproductive by stifling conversation about American Indian portrayals.

“This kind of Band-Aid doesn’t fix these sorts of underlying problems,” Dupuis said. “What a horrible thing to tell kids that we can’t discuss these ideas, that we should avert our eyes to this.”

Brian Howard, a spokesman for the National Congress of American Indians, welcomed the ban, which he said was the first he’d heard of in a public school. He said a private school, Sandy Spring Friends School in Maryland, approved a much more limited ban in February against only the word “Redskins,” the mascot of the Washington, D.C. NFL team. The school doesn’t require uniforms.

“If people are asked to turn their shirts inside out, that’s going to get people talking,” Howard said. “They’re going to ask, `Why?’ They’re always going to inquire about it.”

Republican State Rep. Andre Jacque said that not all American Indians reject the mascots. He pointed to Mishicot, a village in his district where local tribe spokesmen have approved of the public school district’s mascot – the Indian.

“Native American mascots have served as a point of pride for Native American students and fans,” Jacque said.

Thirty-one Wisconsin high schools use Indian mascots and logos, said Barbara Munson, an Oneida Indian who chairs the Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s mascots and logos task force.

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