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Prescott students gain support from Lac Du Flambeau Tribal Community

The Prescott High School student-run T-shirt protest of Native-based mascots and logos has gained supporters from the Lac Du Flambeau Tribal Community. Photo submitted by Erik Zielinski

The 2017-18 winter sports season may be over, but the school districts of Baldwin-Woodville and Osceola will still be representing their team names of the Blackhawks and Chieftains this spring.

Members of the Lac Du Flambeau Tribal Community traveled to Prescott on Feb. 15 to share a message at the Cardinals' girls basketball game against Osceola. A message that they hope carries on into the the spring sports season.

They're in full support of the student-run Prescott T-shirt protest that has brought awareness to the use of Native-based mascots in their own Middle Border Conference.

"I'm here to support these students and their efforts, because this is about a larger issue and they've taken it up," President of Torchlight Consulting, LLC Brandon Thoms said on Feb. 15. "I'm here to support them and ultimately their efforts to change these race-based mascots."

"It shows the relationship that has been built with Prescott to show the advocacy," Brian Jackson, director of the Lac du Flambeau Public School Cultural Connections Program and the Lac Du Flambeau Healthier Community Action Team (HCAT) Behavioral Health Project, said. "It's the beginning of something."

Prescott High School's First Nations History teacher Jeff Ryan has been bringing his students to the Lac Du Flambeau reservation twice a year to attend cultural events and educational workshops.

"When I first heard of this first initial protest, I was very impressed," Thoms said. "The second thing I thought of was flat-out courage. It takes a certain level of courage and fortitude to put yourself out on an island to stand up for something you believe in. It's a good feeling to see that there are people other than Indian people who recognize that this is an issue and they're willing to speak on it."

Thoms was impressed by the Prescott students who sported T-shirts that read "'INDIAN' LOGOS PROMOTE RACIAL DISCRIMINATION AND STEREOTYPING" at Prescott's home games against Osceola and B-W during the 2017-18 basketball season, and by their attempt to start a dialogue regarding the mascot issue with their fellow MBC school districts.

However, after receiving letters from the Prescott students, the Osceola and B-W superintendents responded in full support of their districts' mascots.

Osceola's superintendent Mark Luebker said, "The name and logo of the Osceola Chieftains is well respected in our community and honors the legacy and honor of Chief Osceola."

Luebker also shared the following with the Herald on Jan. 22: "In May of 1996, a senior at Osceola High School contacted the Creek Indian Council in Panama City, Florida requesting permission and assistance in developing a logo. Chief Bobby 'Bearheart' Johns, the 'Certifying artisan' for the Council, designed the current logo used today out of respect and honor for Chief Osceola."

"I can see that side to it, too," Jackson said. "Different cities have been named after chiefs, and there's always that direct saying of, 'Well, schools are honoring (chiefs).' But at the same time, it's a matter of flipping the script, too. Look at it through our lens. If the (Osceola) mascot is endorsed by a Native community, then yeah, by all means."

"There's an issue with the superintendent's remarks and his position, because we're talking about a tribe that is on the other side of the country," Thoms said. "The land that Osceola sits on now is originally Ho Chunk land or Dakota Sioux Indian land. Had (Osceola and B-W) gone to those communities, and specifically Ho Chunk, and approached a tribe and forged a relationship and said, 'Hey, how do you feel about this mascot? Does this mascot properly represent an Indian person?' There's a big difference in that.

"It's disrespectful in that aspect, and it really shows the propensity to come from a position of superiority whereas you're not allowing a certain race of people to have a voice. You're silencing the Native community's voice."

Prescott senior Kieran Lapcinski, a main organizer of the T-shirt protest, said he was surprised by Luebker and B-W's superintendent's Eric Russell's responses to his and his classmates' movement.

"I expected something similar to that, but to quote somebody who lives states away ... I don't think that has grounds to approve something," Lapcinski said. "We're not making decisions that are affecting states away."

The T-shirt protest also received some criticism, which Lapcinski wasn't shocked by.

"The comments from people were not surprising, just appalling," Lapcinski said. "It's people who don't understand the issue and proceed to base their opinions off of ignorance. They're getting defensive about something that they know nothing about."

"Just because something doesn't directly affect you doesn't mean you shouldn't do anything when you see something going on that isn't right," PHS graduate Alayna Seleski said. "I know that through advocacy, that's how change happens. More people means that there will be more awareness and more likelihood of change."

Selenski said she would like the superintendents to address Prescott's students instead of sending his response to Prescott's superintendent Rick Spicuzza.

"This is a student-driven protest. Administration is not involved," Seleski said. "I think it was kind of disheartening that they refused to have a dialogue with the people who are directly involved with the protest."

"It's odd that they went and talked to people above us and didn't even bother addressing us," Lapcinski said.

"It's almost dismissive," Thoms echoed.

"I think communication is ultimately key," Seleski said. "A dialogue needs to be open in order for change to happen. I think the bottom line is this comes down to lack of education and lack of willingness to understand or even entertain the idea of potentially learning more about the issue."

Jackson said that his organization would be more than happy to have a conversation with both district's superintendents.

"This stuff does happen. As Native folks, we're invisible," Jackson said. "But we're willing to go over and talk to the superintendents about the efforts that have taken place over the last 25 years."

Lapcinski and Seleski are disappointed with some of the reactions their protest has contrived so far, but remain hopeful — especially with their Lac Du Flambeau supporters.

"We're not expecting a 180; we said that in the resolution," Lapcinski said, "but we want eventual change, obviously."

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