Granite City alumni group wants school district to drop Native American mascots

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GRANITE CITY — Known first as the Warriors for more than a century, Granite City High School might soon have a new identity and mascot if an alumni group has its way.

The group submitted a letter to the Granite City District 9 School Board and principals at both Granite City High School and Coolidge junior High urging the "immediate removal of all racist depictions of Native American people from Granite City School District properties including buildings, uniforms and online materials."

Their letter said these ‘racist depictions include the Warriors and Braves mascots, arrowheads, caricatured paintings and statues of Native American men, and all other demeaning graphic and textual representations used in the branding of these schools.

"The Warrior mascot and the Braves mascot are not acceptable representations of our school district or our community."

Group Spokesperson Shannon Vannier started a petition the Granite City School District demanding both the high school and Coolidge Junior High (Braves) change their mascots. As of Thursday afternoon, 705 people had signed it.

Another alumni group has launched a counter-petition to back the 100-year-old nickname. It has nearly 1,700 signatures.

"The First Amendment gives us the right to express our opinions concerning our beliefs, but it does not give us the right to change anything," said former Granite City teacher and longtime wrestling coach Mike Garland, who wants the mascot left alone. "The Granite City Warrior mascot name has been at Granite City for over 100 years.

"When Granite City High School was first established in the early 1900s they were known as the ‘Happy Warriors,’ later being changed to the Warriors. To me, a Warrior is a brave and strong person of great respect and fears nothing."

The alumni group’s petition to change the name was submitted even before the professional football team in Washington D.C. announced it would drop its "Redskins" mascot amid financial pressure from advertisers and sponsors.

The team’s list of financial supporters includes FedEx, which threatened to abandon a $205 million stadium naming rights contract six years before it expired if the mascot and team name wasn’t changed.

The Washington team’s announcement Monday prompted further scrutiny of other professional sports franchises, including the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves of Major League Baseball.

"Using Native Americans as mascots is reductive and harmful," Vannier said. "Research shows that these mascots harm the psychological well-being of Native children and contribute to increased rates of discrimination against them. Over 1,500 Native leaders and organizations have demanded the end of Native American mascots."

Vannier did not specify what research she was citing. Several studies have been published, some underwritten by native tribes.

The American Psychological Association, however, has long called for retirement of such mascots. In a 2005 resolution, the APA stated that negative stereotypes "impact the self-esteem of American Indian children."

The Granite City alumni group’s submission statement stated the following:

"Native American mascots turn the rich and complex identities, lived experiences, and cultures of Indigenous peoples into caricature. When ideas like these go unchallenged, we cause direct harm to Indigenous people and we aid white supremacist culture. Racism in our educational institutions does a great disservice to all of us and causes direct and measurable harm to students of color both in our community and across the country.

"Our community is built on the site of the great Cahokia civilization and on land stolen from the Illini Confederation by the Illinois and United States governments. The forceful removal of Native people from this land was an act of genocide and should not be celebrated."

Legislation would force change if passed

Last year, an Illinois State representative proposed a new law that would require Illinois high schools and junior highs to receive permission from Native American tribes if they want to continue using them as the mascots for their athletic teams. Among the other schools with in the metro east with native American nicknames are the Collinsville Kahoks, Mascoutah Indians, Wesclin Warriors, Carlyle Indians and Cahokia Comanches.

Vannier said the group has no received a definite date as to when a decision will be made. Granite City principal Daren Depew said in an email response Friday that he is unsure when the Board will discuss the issue.

"We have submitted our position statement to the board," said. "While we have received numerous responses, we have been informed that any decision on the matter will only be made following considerable deliberation, and have received no indication of how long that will take.

"Our society is becoming more conscious of the dangers of using this kind of imagery in schools and sports. There is a national movement to remove harmful mascots, and that includes those used in Granite City."

Jeremy Hunter of Granite City started the petition to keep the Warriors mascot.

Garland, the former teacher and coach, is among those to sign it. He argues the Warriors nickname has long been an identity for Granite City graduates and a source of pride in the community. It’s never been "disrepected, disgraced, or mocked, in anyway," he said.

"The Warrior name has always been looked at with great respect, honor, and pride," Garland said. "There have been over 100 years of students, athletes, teachers and coaches that have lived the Warrior name with great pride and dignity.

"I have been a Granite City Warrior as a student, athlete, teacher, and coach, and I will forever live the red, white, and black."

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July 18, 2020 at 08:04AM

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