Competing online petitions have brought the future of East Peoria Community High School’s “Raiders” mascot into question.
One petition posted Monday on Change.org calls for removal of the school’s Native American imagery, while a second petition posted a day later aims to keep the mascot, logo, fight song and other symbols.
“I have always thought ... it’s not an honor for Native Americans for their faces to be displayed as a mascot for a high school,” said Abigail McFall, a 2013 East Peoria graduate who signed the removal petition.
“It’s not like they’re educating people in East Peoria about where these Native Americans came from. They’re not bringing in anyone from the tribe to teach people what that tribe is about and what their culture is. I think it’s time to move on.”
A 14-year-old freshman started the petition for removal, which says the mascot is not supportive of a safe, inclusive school environment.
The second petition says the Raiders name and imagery pay respect to Native Americans.
"As a member of the band, removing the war chant is taking away part of what makes band fun, makes our school different from the rest. We must fight to keep our history, keep our heritage, and most importantly, keep our mascot," said the "Keep" petition, started by an "anonymous sophomore."
WCBU reached out to several supporters of keeping the mascot for comment, but those attempts were unsuccessful.
The Native American mascot issue has drawn increased national attention in recent months. Most notably, Washington’s NFL franchise dropped its longtime moniker last month and will use a generic placeholder nickname and logo for the upcoming season.
Regina Tsosie, president of the Native American Coalition of the Quad Cities, feels the time has come for schools to follow suit.
“I would strongly urge those institutions, educational institutions, to really seriously consider moving forward and doing the right thing,” said Tsosie. “Why do they want to hold onto something that is imaginary, that has no life, that is not human and has no feelings?”
East Peoria dropped the word “Red” from its nickname many years ago. Two other high schools in the Tri-County area also still have Native American nicknames: Deer Creek-Mackinaw (Chiefs) and Brimfield (Indians). The Germantown Hills Elementary District 69 "Warriors" use Native American iconography for their school logo.
“You’re just using symbols and stereotypes of these Native Americans and you’re not delving into their rich culture,” said McFall. “You’re just saying, ‘Oh, I am just going to cherry-pick some of their significant items like a tomahawk or a headdress and we’re just going to display it as fun and games.’”
Comments on the petition supporting East Peoria’s mascot say they want to preserve the school’s traditions and history, and it is not disrespectful or offensive.
But Waylon McCamey, a board member of the Seven Circles Heritage Center in Edwards, said that common justification is inaccurate.
“We hear that a lot, you know, ‘honoring them,’” said McCamy. “But if the people feel like they’re not being honored, are they really being honored?”
At Monday’s Board of Education meeting, East Peoria District 309 Superintendent Marjorie Greuter informed board members that pending legislation in the Illinois General Assembly could force the issue.
Illinois House Bill 4783, introduced by Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, would require schools with Native American imagery to receive written consent every five years from a tribe within 500 miles, and conduct programs on Native American culture and historic contributions.
“The superintendent will need to appear before a council of Native Americans to justify keeping the imagery or the mascot. It’s on the radar; I don’t have any more details right now,” said Greuter, adding she hopes to have more information next month.
McCamy thinks momentum continues to build for schools and teams to distance themselves from Native American representation.
“As the younger generations are becoming more and more aware of this, things will keep changing,” said McCamy. “Attitudes are changing, and people are wanting to be more respectful and come together more than we have in the past.”
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