Indian mascot crusade unwarranted, unwanted

November 08, 2001|By Patrick E. Gonzales and Carol A. Arscott

Richard Regan is a man on a mission.

A Montgomery County resident and recently appointed member of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs, Mr. Regan has embarked on a quest to remove any references to Native Americans - real or perceived - from the state's sports teams.

In July, the commission convinced the Maryland State Board of Education to adopt a resolution asking schools to end the use of Native American mascots, but the board passed the buck to local school boards when it came making a decision.

Mr. Regan got a whiff of success's sweet smell late last summer when he persuaded the Montgomery County Board of Education to eliminate all references to "Indians" at Poolesville High School, despite pleas from the community to retain their beloved mascot (the Poolesville Indian even decorates the town's water tower).

The board estimates that removal of the "Indians" name and symbol from scoreboards and the recently renovated gymnasium floor will cost more than $70,000.

The board said it would defer a decision on renaming the Sherwood High School Warriors, even though that mascot doesn't depict an American Indian but instead features a Robin Hood-like archer.

With blood in the water, Mr. Regan and the commission turned their attention to Harford County, where reside the Havre de Grace High School Warriors.

Here, the commission's case was stronger since these "Warriors" use a drawing of an Indian chief as their mascot. Shamed by the commission into convening a review panel, the school met with Mr. Regan and the commission's chairman, Dixie L. Henry, and held public hearings. They returned their decision last week, announcing that the "Warrior" name would stay.

Mr. Regan was not pleased. "I think it's a sad day when the public school system has more in common with the Ku Klux Klan than an advocacy group representing Maryland's American Indians," he told a Sun reporter.

In fact, most Marylanders we surveyed might think it's a "sad day" when a taxpayer-funded commission is charging hell-bent in a direction with which they completely disagree.

In our most recent Maryland poll, conducted in early September, we asked state voters whether they thought the Montgomery County School Board had made the right or wrong decision when it voted to prohibit the use of Indian names for sports teams and Indian symbols as mascots.

Fully two-thirds of Maryland voters (66 percent) said that the board made the wrong decision, and the sentiment was bipartisan -- 60 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of independents.

Will the Commission on Indian Affairs change its tune in the face of overwhelming public opinion? Probably not. Just days after the catastrophic events of Sept. 11, Mr. Regan took to the airways demanding that the state cease celebrating a holiday in honor of the murderous Christopher Columbus.

Who might be the commission's next target? We're not sure, but in a couple of weeks we will celebrate with turkey and all the trimmings this country's first manipulation of Native Americans. And at the end of next month, a jolly old man with a beard will be doggedly exploiting a group of non-represented elves.

Patrick E. Gonzales and Carol A. Arscott are pollsters based in Annapolis.

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