Redmen redux? Iron County School District board member wants Cedar High’s historic mascot reinstated

Marquee sign on Cedar High School campus shows its "Redmen" mascot, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 15, 2019 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Are Cedar High School and the surrounding community ready to revisit the Redmen mascot issue?

Cedar High School Reds logo, St. George News / Cedar City News

Iron County School District Board of Education member Jeff Corry, who taught at Cedar High for 33 years, is planning to bring the contentious issue to another vote.

The school board heard arguments from both sides during its regular monthly work session Tuesday night. Although public comments weren’t permitted, the two groups of presenters talked at length about the school’s mascot.   

As previously reported in Cedar City News, the board voted 3-2 to retire Redmen as Cedar High’s school nickname in 2019. Shortly thereafter, following a vote by the student body, the school adopted Reds as its new moniker, with a wolf mascot embodying it. 

Three of the five school board members were different at that time, with current board members Corry, Dave Staheli and Ben Johnson all being elected since then. 

School board member Jeff Corry, a longtime Cedar High School teacher, addresses fellow board members during Iron County School District board meeting, Cedar City, Utah, June 15, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

According to Corry, the change should have never happened.

Addressing the other board members during Tuesday’s meeting, Corry noted that the name “Redmen” had first been applied by a local newspaper’s sports editor in the fall of 1941, the same year the school’s football team won the state championship.

The nickname, Corry said, was “generally accepted by fans and students” and was officially adopted soon afterward.

Corry then showed slides of the various class gifts, most of them depicting a headdress-wearing Native American chieftain, that adorn the halls of Cedar High. He also mentioned the prestigious Redmen Pride Award that was once bestowed upon students, citing the “absolute respect and honor for Native Americans.”

At Corry’s invitation, a group of adult community members then joined in a slideshow presentation and spoke in favor of changing the school’s nickname back to Redmen.

Paiute tribe members Ranae Pete and Merrilee Ham take part in a presentation at Iron County School District board meeting, Cedar City, Utah, June 15, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

The group’s members took turns highlighting the presentation’s main talking points.

“We want to re-educate, re-inspire, re-engage, rebuild and reinstate,” said Merrilee Ham, a member of the Cedar Band of Paiutes tribe.

“I just want to make the point that there are schools that have changed or reinstated their name because of what the community wanted and what the Native Americans and their parents wanted,” she said. 

One of the presentation slides cited Killingly High School in Connecticut, which reportedly switched to the Red Hawks in 2019 but has since reverted back to its original Redmen moniker.

The next presenter, Andrea Nelson, talked of Native American involvement in historical events dating back more than 400 years and mentioned how the Order of the Redmen was a prestigious fraternity that grew out from the Sons of Liberty.

Nelson also said the students should be taught to stand up to the bullying they’ve experienced on social media.

Redmen proponent Lisa Davis addresses students in attendance at Iron County School District board meeting, Cedar City, Utah, June 15, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“We should not allow other people from other cities or other counties, or some of the ‘cancel culture’ in this world to define who we are,” Nelson said. “We need to teach them. We don’t need to cave to what they want us to believe.”

Ranae Pete, a member of the local Paiute tribe, said she doesn’t find the term Redmen derogatory.

“If we cannot reinstate the Redmen, I want the school board to know that your ignorance speaks loudly,” Pete said.

Nicholas Willis, a 2017 Cedar High graduate and a member of the Kickapoo Tribe, said he favors education over eradication and advocates establishing a Redmen Society to honor the school’s traditions. 

Willis also said he was offended by the use of Reds in place of Redmen. 

“I also want to say that if the school board does not change it back to Redmen, that would be discrimination. Also, that would be disrespectful to my family who are Native Americans,” he said.

Lisa Davis also stated there’s nothing wrong with the name Redmen.

“Just because there’s a few people who misuse the word out of context, it shouldn’t mean we side with that and give that the voice,” she said.

“There is a poison sweeping our country. It is disguised as political correctness and critical race theory, and they are the same,” Davis added. “They are teaching our children to hate their history, to hate themselves and to allow no other opposing views. Do you want to be a part of that? I hope not. Because we need some heroes here. It’s going to take a lot more good people to fight this poison.” 

Davis added that history “will not be kind to anyone who facilitates this.”

“Someday, people will wake up and see what has happened. What side of history will you be on? Will you be on the good guys or the bad guys? Because no country that has done this has ever come out looking good. Americans don’t do that. Communists do. Communists attack school names. Communists erase history. Communists want to make everybody the same, miserably the same. Nobody gets to have pride. Nobody gets a history.”

Slide from a presentation by “Redmen” proponents at Iron County School District board meeting, Cedar City, Utah, June 15, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

During her remarks, Davis also decried the committee-led process by which the name was changed more than two years ago, claiming that those in charge purposefully hand-picked the group members so as to ensure an outcome that was already a foregone conclusion. Davis cited a transcript from the board meeting held on Aug. 28, 2018, when board member Michelle Lambert reportedly said, “So it would be wise to help guide the narrative.”

Lambert, who is now the president of the school board, then responded and clarified what she had meant. 

“My thought was just, people need to understand why,” Lambert said to Davis. “People need to understand why we’re having this conversation. And so I felt like we need to make sure that that message gets out there.”

Lambert said she didn’t know if the message ever got out there as well as it should have.

“And I wish that we had done a better job of putting that message out there. … Was that indicating that we should be manipulating things? Of course not,” she said. “I went to every meeting, I took notes on everything and I did my best to keep an open mind.”

“Redmen” proponent Sheryl Stratton speaks at Iron County School District board meeting, Cedar City, Utah, June 15, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

The Redmen proponent group’s final presenter, Sheryl Stratton, said reinstating the mascot is the only way for the school board to regain the public’s trust.

“We are the only school with the Redmen name west of the Mississippi,” Stratton said. “We need to have a robust curriculum. We need to start educating our students as to what it means. This isn’t just the high school name. This is completely part of our culture here. And we don’t turn our back on culture. We don’t turn our back on people.”

The proponents also played a short video message of support from Eunice Davidson, of the Sioux Nation of North Dakota, who is the vice-president, past president and founder of the Native American Guardians Association. The organization is an advocate for the retention of Native American themed school nicknames and imagery. 

Prior to the proponent group’s hourlong presentation, the board also heard from a handful of current and recently graduated Cedar High students, who were in attendance along with approximately two dozen of their peers.

Noah Denhalter, who will be a senior at Cedar High School this fall, said he and his fellow students showed up to support keeping the current name of Reds.

Cedar High student Noah Denhalter speaks at Iron County School District board meeting, Cedar City, Utah, June 15, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“This meeting in the middle of the summer, with all these students showing support … they’re acknowledging the stress that this might have on the community, as well as their own peers and themselves.” he told the board.

Denhalter said switching the mascot back would only create more disruption and inconsistency.

“Changing it once again will only continue the cycle of misidentity and confusion that has surrounded the mascot for the last two years or so,” he said.

Another student, Erica Marchant, said she and other CHS students have already embraced the new wolf mascot, which she said carries with it a sense of loyalty to the pack or family.

“They’re seeing the school and their other fellow students as a family, which is really cool,” Marchant said.  We’ve just begun to embrace this new identity. We’re just beginning to rally behind it. And even with the presence of a pandemic and a very stressful year … we’ve embraced this wolf. We’ve taken it in, and we can’t wait for it to become part of us.”

Marchant said that ultimately the spirit of the school resides “not in the mascot but in the students.”

Isaac Everett, another CHS student who shared a few of his wolf-themed sketches with the board, explained his feelings on the topic:

We at Cedar High choose respect. This has been shown through the acceptance of our new mascot. We choose respect. We choose to respect different cultures and ethnicities. We have integrity by knowing why cultural appropriation and slurs affect minorities in our community. We take responsibility for our actions as a whole, acknowledging the negative effects that the old mascot had despite the good intentions. We are accountable for our actions and choices by supporting, educating and accepting our mascot’s history. As a school, we have made a change to become better and recognize errors in the past.

Everett said that while most people understand that the previous Redmen mascot was not chosen with malicious intent, “the effects were there.”

Cedar High students Isaac Everett and Erica Marchant address school board members during Iron County School District board meeting, Cedar City, Utah, June 15, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“Our school community has grown to understand that we no longer live in a time where this is acceptable,” he said. “And we choose to educate ourselves about the meanings behind our actions, not just the intentions we have.”

Everett also said the new mascot has given Cedar High students “the opportunity to wear their jerseys, uniforms and attire with pride, free from judgment and the fear of an image being portrayed and interpreted wrong.”

Kaylee Gilbert, a 2021 graduate of Cedar High, prefaced her own remarks by first reading aloud a short statement written by fellow Class of ‘21 graduate Hallie Bronson.

Bronson, who was a member of the school’s cheerleading squad, said that while attending cheer camp as a 14-year-old incoming freshman, she and her teammates had dressed up as Native Americans using brown pillowcases with fringe cut into them and hair braids in an attempt to show their school spirit. She said they quickly learned “the hard way” that their actions had been culturally insensitive.

“Because of the global nature of social media, people of all backgrounds, including tribal members from around the state and across the country, mocked us and attacked us with hateful language,” Bronson said in her remarks, as related by Gilbert. “It was frightening and devastating. Those of you who have been attacked on social media can know and understand what our team was going through. Especially so as a young girl who was only speaking to show her school pride.”

Bronson’s statement continued to say that it was easy for adults to say “We want the mascot back.”

“Well, I say to those adults, you’re not going to high school right now. We are here. Why are your four years of high school from decades ago more important than our four years?

Bronson’s statement also noted that amid the difficulties associated with the pandemic-plagued 2020-21 school year, “one source of peace has been a mascot that doesn’t put a target on our backs.”

“Please, adults with authority, our school board, please be our protectors, champions and advocates. Please allow our student body to have an enjoyable high school experience without a mascot that creates such strong, hateful feelings towards kids.”

Bronson’s statement continued to say that it was “unbelievable” how the issue had caused adults to attack innocent children.

“These adults attack us kids, either because they find the Redmen mascot offensive or because they only care about their own emotional attachment to it. We don’t deserve this kind of treatment.”

Recently graduated Cedar High student Kaylee Gilbert address school board members during Iron County School District board meeting, Cedar City, Utah, June 15, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

In her own comments, Gilbert also mentioned how people on both sides of the issue had posted vulgar and profane responses on social media, directed toward CHS students.

Gilbert noted that the number of such hurtful comments had decreased substantially since the school had switched its nickname to Reds, with its associated wolf mascot. 

“This year on our Instagram, for student government, we did not have a single bad comment involving our mascot,” she said. “So it has been good, and our students feel safe with this mascot. Changing it back will only be putting our students in danger.”

Gilbert, who was a sophomore when she sat on the mascot committee, said that at the onset, she herself was “a full-blown Redmen fan.”

“There was no way that I was changing my mind,” she said, “but in the end, my vote was for the change, because ultimately this mascot is not worth the risk for students.”

Gilbert also spoke of the difficulties associated with the imagery that the school had been allowed to use in association with the Redmen mascot.

“We couldn’t use headdresses. We couldn’t use dreamcatchers. We could sometimes use feathers, but sometimes we couldn’t. We could sometimes use a bow and arrow and sometimes use a drum. But other times, we couldn’t, and there wasn’t clear communication with our tribe.” 

The Cedar High Mohey Tawa perform their character routine during the Region 9 drill team competition, St. George, Utah, Jan. 15, 2020 | File photo by Dave Larson, St. George News

Gilbert also mentioned an incident where Mohey Tawa, the school’s drill team, had performed a traditional tribal dance several years back, which she said led to a “severe miscommunication.”

“The effects were still being felt when I went into high school, and there was still a bunch of drama surrounding it,” she said.

“There is no logical reason to change the mascot back to the Redmen other than the prospect of tradition,” Gilbert added. “Traditions, however, occasionally need to be changed, especially when they contradict the needs and values of society. This is one such tradition. The heart of our school lies not in the mascot but within the students.”

Gilbert also implored the board to strive for unity moving forward. 

“We at Cedar High School are trying to move past this and look towards the future,” Gilbert said. “Bringing this issue back to the table will only continue to amplify and polarize the community, pitting people against each other and decreasing the support for the school. Support for the school is equal to support for the students. This issue ultimately will be doing more harm than good. … We need to stop this divide that has severed our community and choose instead to move on.” 

“Please, for the health of our school community, vote and represent us in a way that doesn’t create issues outside our community and leave our students in danger,” she said. “We trust that you will favor the decision advocating for the students.”

The board will possibly take action on the Redmen issue during its regular meeting next Tuesday.

Other discussions that arose at Tuesday night’s work meeting included the following:

  • Review of the district’s budget numbers and setting a public hearing on the 2021-22 budget for 5 p.m. on June 22.
  • Discussion of whether to enter into a shared liability agreement with Cedar City, under which personal fireworks would be permitted to be set off in designated school parking lots on the Fourth of July.
  • Presentation from Chris Riley, an executive of Suite360, who explained the social emotional learning platform and answered questions from the board.
  • Discussion of school enrollment numbers as well as plans for a bond election to pay for needed capital improvements.

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