Greenfield Recorder, November 18, 2021
This and earlier legislation has been supported by Traprock.
By SISTER CLARE CARTER, PETER BLOOD, SHAYKH MIRZA YAWAR BAIG and KATIE TOLLES
During the last 18 months faith congregations across Western Massachusetts have been wrestling deeply around racial justice and the impact of 400 years of settler colonialism on the Native peoples whose homelands we inhabit. As Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists we share a common belief that we are called to treat others – including those from very different backgrounds from our own – with compassion, respect, and justice. We grieve the many ways faith groups have failed to do this in the past – and often still do.
Today, a top legislative priority for Native people in Massachusetts is to pass a bill ending the use of Native mascots in our public schools. Sadly, there are still schools in our state using Native names and stereotyped imagery for their sports teams despite repeated requests by Native groups to end this.
Our Massachusetts state legislature recently took the historic step of passing a bill to begin replacing racist imagery and language from our flag and seal. Mississippi removed the Confederate “stars and bars” from its state flag last year making us the last state to remove explicit racist imagery from our flag. We are grateful for all who worked to make this happen. Addressing Native mascots is a critical next step.
Native groups across our state have spoken out about the psychological damage that the use of Native names, logos, mascots and chants by sports teams inflicts on them, particularly on their young people. Studies have shown that these practices create distress and lowered self-esteem for Native young people. Native youth commit suicide three times as often as their peers. Native boys in high school commit suicide at a rate eight times that of their peers. These images, names and chants are disrespectful and inaccurate stereotypes of Indigenous people. They also imply uniformity among Native peoples that ignores the great diversity of First Nations on this continent.
No public school teams in our state use names or stereotyped images of other ethnic or religious groups living among us. Why would we think it is all right to use Native names and images in this way? The callous discounting of requests to end these practices is rooted in the assumption that Native peoples no longer exist in our region or their wishes do not matter.
Last fall the interfaith associations in Franklin and Hampshire counties put on a program where we had the chance to hear Native leaders talk and reflect on the impact of 400 years of European colonization. We heard Native parents share about the embarrassment and confusion that Native mascots have on their own children attending our public schools.
The Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians have changed their team names, logos, and mascots. It is beyond time to end this practice in our Massachusetts public schools. We urge you join us in making this happen. Please: Ask your congregation, town, or other group you are part of to act publicly to support passage of Massachusetts Senate Bill 2493.
Contact Michael Rodrigues, the chair of the Massachusetts Senate Ways & Means Committee, at Michael.Rodrigues@masenate.gov urging him to bring S2493 to the senate floor with a recommendation to pass.
And send a copy of what you write to Sen. Jo Comerford (one of the lead sponsors of this bill) at Jo.Comerford@masenate.govand your state representative.
We hope that you will join us in this work. Information, action alerts and the statements of Native groups on this subject, are available here
This column is submitted by: Sister Clare Carter, New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett; Peter Blood, Mount Toby Friends Meeting, Leverett; Shaykh Mirza Yawar Baig, Hampshire Mosque in Hadley; and Katie Tolles, First Church of Amherst, Shutesbury.
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