Belding school board hears more mascot feedback

By Emilee Nielsen • Last Updated 11:54 pm on Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Chief Judge for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, Patrick Shannon, a former Belding resident, tells the Belding Area Schools Board of Education and the audience he believes it’s time for a mascot change and the school board should “change it before someone makes you change it.” — Daily News/Emilee Nielsen

BELDING — They’ve heard comments from people inside and outside the community.

They’ve heard people say they want to keep the current mascot and they’ve heard people say they want to change it.

They’ve even seen some people change their minds about the issue.

Now, the Belding Area Schools Board of Education is one step closer to making a final decision about the fate of the Redskins.

Melanie Fish of Belding addressed the Belding Area Schools Board of Education about the characterization of a cultural group as a mascot, as she holds up some characterizations of ethnic groups she’s seen and disagrees with. — Daily News/Emilee Nielsen

During a special meeting Monday evening, board members and attendees heard presentations from Belding High School Principal Michael Ostrander and former Belding resident and current Chief Judge at the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Court Patrick Shannon.

Ostrander began by telling attendees about his quest to find a cross-section of the student body and figure out how they felt about the mascot.

“I asked my assistant for a list of 12 names. I said I’d like to have three from each grade level, six boys and six girls and all types of students,” he said.

Ostrander said the group turned out to be a strong gathering of students who are vocal and unafraid to share their opinions about the mascot.

They’ve had two meetings as a group thus far. During the first meeting, students were split in terms of who wanted to keep the mascot, who wanted to keep the status quo and who wanted to change the mascot.

“They’ve asked some really great questions. They wanted to know what these words mean. They’ve asked if we were to change what that would look like,” Ostrander said.

In an effort to educate students, during the group’s second meeting Ostrander invited some people from area tribes — there are 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan — to teach students about Native American history.

After that meeting, the entire group of students said they wanted to see the mascot change.

“The comments along with that were mixed,” Ostrander said. “Some of them said they wanted to change but that they needed to hear more. Others said it was just a parent issue and that if it’s supposed to be about the kids then why is no one asking the kids.”

Ron Harper of Belding said he was certain when this process started that he would be supporting keeping the Redskins mascot. Now, after some hefty research, he has changed his position and is ready to embrace a new school mascot. — Daily News/Emilee Nielsen

Ostrander asked those students to each invite four people to come to the next meeting to make a total group of 48 students to get an even wider cross-section of the student body. He wanted to make sure it wasn’t a fluke or too small a sample, though he doesn’t believe it was a fluke.

“There was a question raised ‘If we can’t be the Redskins, what can we use to honor Native Americans?’” he said.

The answer to that question came from another student who answered sarcastically, “What would we use to honor Native Americans?” and there was no good answer to that from any of the students.

“I’m really proud of the way they’re interacting and… it’s the type of thing you as parents (and community members) should be proud of, too,” Ostrander said.

Shannon shared how he was proud to have graduated from Belding High School and though he’s not a part of the Belding community anymore, he still cares about the community as a whole.

That’s why he recommends the school district make the decision to change.

“I guess my recommendation to you as someone who grew up here and still considers himself from Belding… it’s time to change it. It’s time,” he said.

Through his work, Shannon has forged friendships with Native American people in the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe and in tribes across the state. He said he’s learned about the things Native Americans have gone through and what they still have to go through today.

“I know a lot of people offended by the use of the mascot and use of the name Redskins,” he said. “Change it before someone tells you you have to change it.”

Shannon believes this is an opportunity to educate students about Native American history throughout the nation, in Michigan and locally in Belding and surrounding areas.

Several people stood for public comment, some from Belding and others from outside the community. Some were in favor of the mascot. Most said they were ready for a change, either because they disagreed with the mascot or because they think that’s the way the decision is headed anyway.

“It’s been described as a slur since 1967 in the dictionary,” said Belding resident Troy Bernard. “It doesn’t get much simpler than that for me.”

Ron Harper said as a Belding graduate, he began attending mascot meetings fully intending to support keeping the mascot. At Tuesday’s meeting, he shared how he’s changed his mind.

“I did research on both sides and I understand where people have issues,” he said. “I implore you (the audience) to do your research and come to an understanding of both sides.”

The school board will make a decision before December’s regular meeting, when they will begin to decide how to move forward in the district. For instance, a concerned parent, Valerie Prosser, brought up the point that she worries what will happen to her children who might still wear clothing with Belding Redskins emblazoned on it.

Board President Tim Flynn said all that will be ironed out after the board decides how to make their recommendation.

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