GLOCESTER, R.I. (WPRI) — Ponaganset High School, home of the Chieftains. That’s been the mascot for the Foster-Glocester Regional School District for decades — but that may change.
As the NFL’s Washington Redskins plan to update their name, the national discussion has made its way to Rhode Island. Foster-Glocester school officials say they plan to start a discussion on changing their mascot.
“In response to recent emails from students and community members, we do intend to have the conversation about our school’s mascot after our plans to safely reopen our schools for students and staff next year have been finalized,” Superintendent Michael Barnes said.
A number of other local school and recreational sports teams reference Native Americans, including the Cranston Chiefs and Woonsocket Redskins.
“It’s not just a sports team. It’s racism,” said Loren Spears, executive director of the Tomaquag Museum and educator on Rhode Island’s Indigenous People’s history.
Spears said these types of mascots do not honor indigenous people, even team names of Native American titles like the Chiefs or Chieftains. She also said teams should not have their mascot reference Native Americans unless there is an agreement with their tribal nation, otherwise they should all be changed.
“You can’t just hold onto something that negative and oppresses a group of people just because it’s always been that way,” she added. “It doesn’t mean it’s right.”
The majority of these recreation and sports teams are made up of children, and Spears believes that makes matters worse because “adults are passing down bias and racism to the next generation.”
“Things that we adopt and say have been happening for a long time, and to justify that as being right is really about ignorance and not knowing the history behind these things,” Spears explained.
Although there has been a renewed push to change team names with Native American references, Spears says it’s an effort she and other tribal leaders have advocated for for many years.
The Rhode Island Department of Education also weighed in on the issue.
“While school mascot designations are local decisions, RIDE encourages local leaders to make sure they consider how some team names can be disrespectful or derogatory to other people,” RIDE spokesperson Pete Janhunen said in a statement.
Interview requests to the Cranston Chiefs and Woonsocket Redskins were not returned.