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Native American mascot in Dartmouth up for debate April 25

Dartmouth High School Gym
Dartmouth High School
Dartmouth High School Gym

The heated community debate in Dartmouth over the town’s Native American school mascot will be the focus of the April 25 School Committee meeting following a nonbinding ballot question this week.

On Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly supported keeping the “Indians” name and logo, with 77 percent in favor and 18 percent opposed.

The residents’ group Defend Dartmouth, organized to support the “Indian," hailed the vote as a victory for community heritage and pride.

But School Committee chair Shannon Jenkins maintains that research and direct testimony from local Native American tribes show Native mascots are harmful to youth. She said changing the mascot is a moral issue that shouldn’t be guided by popularity.

“I've always said that this matter shouldn't be put to a vote,” she said. “Issues of civil rights shouldn't be subject to the will of the majority, and just because something is supported by the majority doesn't make something morally right.”

A few members of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe — including one who says he designed the logo in the 1970s — have spoken in support of the “Indian.” But other members of the Aquinnah tribe and other local tribes, including the Mashpee Wampanoag, have spoken against it.

A subcommittee of the Dartmouth School Committee held a hearing in March.

Supporters dispute the term “mascot,” saying the “Indian” in Dartmouth is not a mascot but a school symbol.

Opponents say that if the “Indian” is offensive to Native people, it is not acceptable.

Jenkins said another member of the School Committee asked that the matter be placed on the agenda for the next meeting.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.