Seeing Red: Will school board vote to keep Cedar High’s mascot or change it?

A sign depicting Cedar High's "Redman" mascot on display during a swim meet, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 12, 2019 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — After more than two months of public debate and discussion about Cedar High School’s use of the term “Redmen” in its nickname and mascot, the Iron County School District Board of Education may decide this week whether to change it.

The five-member school board is scheduled to convene a special meeting Tuesday at 5 p.m. to discuss the issue and likely bring it to a vote.

At its most recent regular meeting Jan. 22, the board listened to two opposing presentations from members of the 24-member committee that had been appointed and tasked to research the issue. The committee comprised district and school staff members, students in grades 8-12, alumni, parents and Paiute tribal leaders.

After three public hearings held on the topic and after reading through more than 200 emailed comments, the committee voted Jan. 15 in favor of recommending that the mascot be changed by a 17-7 vote.

Rich Nielsen, the district’s director of secondary education, said during the Jan. 22 board meeting that he was impressed with how thoroughly the committee members had researched the issue, adding that he’s confident any one of the 24 could articulately present the key arguments for either side.

Iron County School District director of secondary education Rich Nielsen (standing) speaks to committee members during a meeting in which they voted 17-7 to recommend changing Cedar High’s mascot, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 15, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Delivering the opposite points of view at the board meeting were CHS teacher Tiffany Swindlehurst and parent Cari Allred, who presented in favor of changing the mascot, and CHS activities director Danny Lewis and administrator Merrillee Chamberlain, an assistant principal at Canyon View Middle School, who presented in favor of keeping the mascot.

Both sides mentioned how the Redmen nickname and mascot, along with associated Native American imagery, have been used by Cedar High since the early 1940s.

Those arguing in favor of changing “Redmen” say the moniker is offensive to some, as it can be considered a racial slur.

Thalia Guerrero, a senior at CHS who was also in attendance at the meeting, was quoted in the presentation as saying:

As a Cedar High school student and a Paiute member, I do not feel honored to be a “Redmen” … I’ve seen a lot of disrespect on my culture at the school … I’m speaking for the students that feel pressured to speak up because they don’t want to deal with the hate, bullying and judgment … I know I’m not alone but I will stand alone if I have to.

In the interest of student safety and adhering to the values of the school district, the mascot should be changed, Swindlehurst urged.

Cedar High School senior Thalia Guerrero addresses the Iron County School Board during its regular meeting, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 22, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“Retire the Redmen mascot now, with dignity, to preserve its association with a legacy of excellence,” Swindlehurst said, reading from the presentation. “Transition to a new mascot in a manner that promotes inclusivity and strengthens community connections.”

“This is about doing what’s right — not majority rule or popularity polls,” she added. “When you know better, you do better.”

In presenting the other side of the argument, Lewis and Chamberlain both spoke of the tradition, pride and honor associated with the school’s use of the term “Redmen.” Over the past several decades, many alumni have proudly associated themselves with the Redmen name, Lewis said, adding, “It’s a unifier.”

Their presentation quoted current CHS senior Cason Deschine, a Native American and a member of the school’s football team, as saying the following:

That rubbed off on me, watching my older brother and his buddies going to basketball games and showing their pride and how this name unites all these students. I love to be a Redman. I can tell the student body at Cedar High is very proud of the name. They’re not showing disrespect.

Changing the name also carries potential costs, Lewis added, although estimated dollar figures weren’t provided. Typical expenses, which could be phased in over time, could include replacing or repainting signs, fixtures and equipment emblazoned with the logo throughout the school property. Lewis said it’s possible some donors and sponsors may also decide to discontinue or withhold their support if they don’t support the new mascot.

Chamberlain, who is a Paiute tribe member, said that she, along with many other Native Americans, is not bothered by the term “Redmen.”

The presentation also suggested that keeping the name could lead to enhanced educational opportunities, such as history lessons about Native American culture, along with student clubs and cultural awareness activities.

The presentation also suggests not caving in to “the PC culture,” referring to political correctness.

“When will this end?” Lewis asked during the presentation, noting that the name of the state Oklahoma literally means “Red People” in the local Native American language. “When are people not offended anymore? People can choose not to be offended.

Many people inside the Cedar City community and beyond have weighed in on the controversial issue. One online petition to “Keep the Redmen” has garnered more than 5,400 signatures as of Monday, while an opposing petition to change the name has had more than 1,400 people sign.

School board president Stephen Allen reassured those in attendance at the Jan. 22 meeting that the mascot decision is not a foregone conclusion, and that he also does not know how his fellow board members intend to vote.

Allen noted that the issue had been coming up multiple times over the past several years, so the board ultimately decided last year to appoint a committee to address and explore the issue.

Swindlehurst also stated that she was unaware of what the committee’s recommendation was going to be until the 17-7 vote was announced at the end of the Jan. 15 meeting.

“This vote was not rigged or decided ahead of time,” she said.

Allen said regardless of how the board members vote, he hopes the community will support whichever decision is made.

Superintendent Shannon Dulaney also thanked the committee for their efforts.

“I’m appreciative of this process,” she said, calling it a “difficult but much needed conversation.”

Dulaney said the primary focus should be on the students as the decision is made.

“It’s about the kids that we serve, today and tomorrow,” she said, adding, “Tradition is awesome. Respect is awesome. But not at the expense of the kids.

Toward the end of the Jan. 22 school board meeting, another 20 or so people were each given up to two minutes to add their own comments about the issue. As had been the case at the previous public meetings, viewpoints were split.

Brigitte White, mother of a CHS wrestler, said she could understand both sides.

“We need to make a decision and support it,” White said.

The school board includes two newly elected members who were sworn in Jan. 22, namely Michelle Lambert and Dale Brinkerhoff. They will join Allen, Mary Ann Kemp and Michelle Jorgenson-Jones in making the final decision regarding the Redmen mascot. If the board for some reason does not vote on the issue Tuesday, its next regular meeting is scheduled for Feb. 26.

“Educate, not Eradicate”

In an effort by “Redmen” proponents to present their case, members of a national Native American organization were invited to make a presentation in the CHS auditorium Saturday morning.

Speaking to an audience of about 100 people, which included four Iron County School Board members, a panel of members of the Native American Guardian’s Association (NAGA) presented messages reflective of their motto and theme, “Educate, not Eradicate.”

A slide from the presentation made by Native American Guardian’s Association member Andre Billeaudeaux, Cedar City High School, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 2, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

The group promotes the use of terms like “Redskins,” “Redmen” and other Native American terms as nicknames for schools and businesses.

Panelist Archie Fool Bear, who was sporting a Minnesota Vikings baseball cap, said the University of North Dakota’s former nickname “Fighting Sioux” was dropped in 2012 by a statewide referendum, an outcome he called “disappointing.” The school’s teams are now called the Fighting Hawks instead.

Noting that there are more than 500 legally recognized Native American tribes in the U.S., Fool Bear said the focus should be about promoting unity within that diversity.

“This is the frontline of the fight,” Fool Bear said, as he explained why NAGA steps up and responds in cases where schools are being pressured to abandon their Native American nicknames, images and icons.

Eunice Davidson, a Dakota Sioux from North Dakota and a founding member of NAGA organization, said every time such a change is made, it’s like “one more nail in the coffin of the American Indian.”

“The world is trying to make us victims and totally dependent on others,” Davidson said. “That is not the Indian way.”

Approximately 100 people attended a presentation by Native American Guardian’s Association members at Cedar City High School, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 2, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“Who are you to tell me I’m racist when I’m fighting for my heritage?” she asked.

Another panelist, Andre Billeaudeaux, author of the book, “How the Redskins Got Their Name,” provided an in-depth look the historical usage of the term “Redskin” and “Redman” and talked about how they properly referred to the red-tinted face and body paint worn by Native American tribal members.

Making a distinction between a nickname and a mascot, Billeaudeaux said the group does not support the use of mascots in the sense of sideline cheerleaders dressed in Native American regalia or inappropriate caricatures, such as the recently retired Chief Wahoo, longtime mascot of the Cleveland Indians major league baseball team. Rather, he said, they promote the use of dignified and culturally appropriate Native American imagery.

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