Glacier Peak High School opened 13 years ago with the Grizzly as its mascot. At the Everett district’s Tambark Creek Elementary, which opened in 2019, students are Mountain Lions. Ruby Bridges Elementary, new in the Northshore district, will be home to the River Otters.
Surely it’s a safe bet that in 2021 no new school would choose my alma mater’s mascot. I was a Saxon when I attended Spokane’s Joel E. Ferris High School. I graduated in 1972. Ferris was new in 1963. And still, students there are Ferris Saxons.
I’m troubled by that, and I’ve been thinking about why since learning earlier this month that Marysville Pilchuck High School must change its mascot — the Tomahawks. That’s because of state House Bill 1356, recently signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee. The new law allows tribes to veto mascots they deem “inappropriate” if those mascots use Native American cultural symbols and represent schools with enrollment boundaries on tribal lands.
Tulalip Tribes leadership requested the change, in accordance with the law that takes effect July 25, and has asked that Totem Middle School’s Thunderbirds mascot be done away with, too.
State Rep. Emily Wicks, a 38th District Democrat, is a 2004 Marysville Pilchuck graduate. She was a cheerleader there.
“It can be hard to experience the change or fading away of something that was part of shaping your identity, but we can also look at the discussion around our school mascots as a chance to rebrand our school and community,” Wicks said by email Wednesday. She sees the change as “an opportunity to forge a positive path forward” based on mutual respect and communication.
“There is this thinking among some that our current mascot is a way to honor our tribal partners,” Wicks added. “However, the best way to honor our tribal partners is to keep them front and centered in this process and listen to how their culture is, and should be, represented.”
So what about my Saxons?
The Webster’s dictionary definition says a Saxon is a member of a Germanic people who entered and conquered England with the Angles and Jutes in the fifth century, merging with them to form the Anglo-Saxon people.
What makes this Ferris Saxon uncomfortable is that the term “Anglo-Saxon” has been used beyond any study of medieval Europe.
“The term has carried racial connotations since its inception, and it has been inextricable from modern white supremacist ideology for the better part of two centuries,” wrote Jonathan Davis-Secord, an associate professor of English at the University of New Mexico, in a perspective piece published April 23 in The Washington Post.
He wrote that “many groups have used a distorted historical image of ‘Anglo-Saxons’ to glorify an imaginary all-White past.”
On Tuesday, Sandra Jarrard, executive director of communications for Spokane Public Schools, said by email that the idea of changing the Saxons mascot “has not been brought up by any community members.”
That wasn’t the case in 1997, when Spokane’s Spokesman-Review newspaper covered the issue of Native American-themed school mascots and reported that the Saxon mascot “also has come under fire in recent years.” Cynthia Lambarth, then an associate superintendent of Spokane Public Schools, was quoted by the paper in an Aug. 18, 1997, article as saying “the concern is not denigration of the ancient Saxon ethnic group.”
Rather, Lambarth said, some consider Ferris’ Saxon logo “too white, too male, too warlike,” the newspaper reported. That logo, by the way, was updated in 2000 to remove a Saxon figure holding his sword, leaving just a shield with crossed swords.
On Wednesday night, one Spokane school was at the center of a history-making decision. The district’s school board approved a new name for Sheridan Elementary School, which was named in honor of Gen. Philip Sheridan. The career U.S. Army officer and Union general in the Civil War has long been linked to the statement “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”
The district’s website shows the new name, Frances Scott Elementary. Scott, who died in 2010 at age 88, was Spokane’s first female African-American attorney. She taught at Spokane’s Rogers High School for 30-plus years and was president of Washington State University’s board of regents.
Sheridan Principal Larry Quisano and a sixth-grade student, Kiley Mitchell-Gregg, were credited with pushing for the change. Kiley, according to The Spokesman-Review, is a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
Changes have been coming for years.
In 1997, Meadowdale High School in the Edmonds district dropped its Chiefs mascot, and in 1998 the student body voted to become the Mavericks.
The state Board of Education had requested in the mid-1990s that districts review building names, mascots and logos to see if they “are free from bias and derogatory connotations or effects associated with race, creed, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and disability.”
In 2014, Port Townsend High School adopted the Redhawks as mascot after dropping the Redskins.
While the state’s new law centers on Native American names, symbols or images, it doesn’t specifically address any other mascots or nicknames that could be considered derogatory or discriminatory against a race, ethnicity or nationality.
Along with my Saxons, Washington’s high school mascots include lots of Vikings, along with Spartans, Vandals — and, at Sultan High School, the Turks.
“I graduated in 1992, a Sultan Turk,” said Sultan High School Principal Sarita Whitmire. She’s starting her fourth year as principal but has worked in the district 20 years.
Sultan plays in the Emerald Sound Conference, which includes some Seattle-area private schools. “We have had some of our visiting teams curious about our logo,” Whitmire said. One student, a soccer player, “took some offense to it,” she said.
Whitmire grew up in Hereford, Texas, where Hereford High School has the Whitefaces as a mascot. Whitefaces are cattle. “It’s been talked about for a long time, but there are lots of farmers there,” she said.
As for the Turks, Whitmire said she’d be “a little bit” sad to see the mascot go. Today, the logo used most is an “S” with a sword, but an image of “a Turk busting out of a wall” is painted on the back of the school.
“I think history is important. Change for the sake of change is not right,” said Whitmire. Yet, she said, “the world is very different than in 1992.”
Sultan is growing, new families are moving in, said Whitmire, whose ancestry is Native American, Hispanic and Caucasian.
“If there are truly people out there who are offended, we need to have those conversations,” Whitmire said. “Our whole mission is not to exclude anyone. We really want students to feel they belong.”
Julie Muhlstein: firstname.lastname@example.org