Indianz.Com > News > Pokagon Band calls on school district to eliminate ‘Chieftains’ imagery
Pokagon Band Kee Boon Mein Kaa Pow Wow
The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians hosts its Kee Boon Mein Kaa Pow Wow during the Labor Day holiday weekend at the tribally-owned Rodgers Lake Campground in Dowagiac, Michigan. Photo courtesy Pokagon Band
Pokagon Band calls on school district to eliminate ‘Chieftains’ imagery
Monday, October 9, 2023

As communities across the nation celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians is calling on a school district in Michigan to get rid of its “Chieftains” logo and imagery.

The tribe previously supported the use of “Chieftains” by the Dowagiac Union Schools through a joint resolution with the district. But the old resolution, which dates to 1990, is considered “outdated” by Pokagon leaders.

“The assertion that non-Native American school districts continue to depict a race of people as a logo, mascot or nickname, without providing their students with an accurate and truthful history of how European colonization impacted Native American Tribes, has its roots in colonialism,” Chairwoman Rebecca Richards said in a news release on Monday. “Although some may argue they are paying tribute to Native Americans, it is not an honor for our people to be depicted as characters.”

Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians News Release [PDF] pokagon100923

In March 2021, the tribal council adopted a new resolution to oppose the use of Native imagery by non-Native entities. More recently, the Pokagon Native Representations Outreach Board asked Dowagiac Union Schools to eliminate the “Chieftains” logo, which currently features a pair of feathers and a couple of beads on a head strap. The school district uses “Chieftain” for its athletics program.

“Research has shown the damaging effects logos, mascots and nicknames have on Native American children, who are often subject to harassment, name calling and stereotyping by their non-native peers,” Chairwoman Richards said. “Although numerous schools and sports teams around the county have finally begun to listen to Native Americans and right their wrongs, we need to continue to shine a spotlight on the organizations that refuse to make a change because of their alumni pride and personal opinions.”

‘The Pokagon Band remains actively committed to providing consultations to school districts including Dowagiac Union Schools, as well as sports teams and other organizations nationally that have Native-themed logos, mascots and nicknames, that are interested in making a change,” Richards added.

Dowagiac Union Schools Board of Education Letter [PDF] dowagiacunionschools080923

Despite the tribal request, the Dowagiac Union Schools Board of Education plans to keep its “Chieftains” identity, which has been in place since 1928. An August 9 letter asserts the logo has always been used in a positive manner.

“As fully exemplified by the parties’ history, the Board and the District have treated the ‘Chieftains’ logo with dignity and respect,” board president Brent Brewer said in the letter to Richards. “The Board believes that the ‘Chieftains’ logo has been an important and valuable tool for facilitating students’ education regarding Native American history and culture.”

The decision by Dowagiac comes after a slew of school districts in Michigan have stopped using Native imagery. Since 2018, the Native American Heritage Fund, which was established through a Class III gaming compact signed by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to help schools choose new mascots and to promote Native culture and traditions throughout the state.

“The decision to issue a public statement without engaging in formal consultation is alarming,” Pokagon Secretary Sam Morseau, who previously served as director of education for the tribe, said in the news release on Monday. “We have a responsibility to ensure all students can thrive in a welcoming learning environment, and the school board’s decision negatively impacts efforts in collaboration of federal and state program and services.”

Dowagiac falls within Pokagan homelands in southwestern Michigan. The tribe’s main administrative offices are located in the city.

The majority of the population in Dowagiac is White, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but the region falls within the tribe’s 10-county service area, which extends into the state of Indiana.

Related Stories
Pokagon Band welcomes new council members (August 16, 2023)