Marysville schools may rethink Tomahawk mascot

At Marysville Getchell High School, students and sports teams are Chargers. There’s a lightning bolt in the logo.

They are Grizzlies at Glacier Peak. The high school logo is an aggressive display of the mascot’s sharp claws.

Both schools are quite new to Snohomish County. Marysville Getchell opened in 2010, and the Snohomish district’s Glacier Peak in 2008.

What if Marysville-Pilchuck High School were brand-new today? Would anyone choose Tomahawks as the name of its sports teams?

“I don’t know how that name was chosen,” said Gail Miller, assistant superintendent of the Marysville School District. “I know it was a long time ago.”

The issue of American Indian names as school mascots, which has come up before in Marysville, is back in the news.

On Sept. 26, the state Board of Education passed a resolution urging school districts to quit using American Indian references for mascot names. The resolution has no teeth. Aaron Wyatt, board spokesman, was quoted in an Associated Press article as saying there would be no consequences for schools that keep Indian mascots.

The Washington board’s action followed an Oregon Board of Education vote in May banning American Indian mascots, nicknames and logos. Schools there have five years to switch.

Miller said Friday the Marysville district plans to discuss the state board’s recommendation with the Tulalip Tribes. “We’ll begin that process, with our board and with the tribal board,” she said.

The possibility of dumping the Tomahawks came up about a decade ago, Miller said. “That included some discussion with the Tulalip Tribes. At that point, there was not a lot of energy for it,” she said.

Face paint or any Indian regalia is now banned at games, she said. In the past, fans at Marysville-Pilchuck sports events have been seen doing a gesture known as the “Tomahawk chop.”

In 2004, a Seattle consulting company, Strategic Educational Investments, visited the Marysville-Pilchuck campus and talked with students and others before recommending that the school do more to combat perceptions of racism. Then-Principal Tracy Van Winkle asked for the report in her first year at the school.

Among other issues, Van Winkle said at the time she was troubled by how some students were treated when they visited classrooms to talk about a school decision to do away with a chant that accompanied a Tomahawk-chop cheer.

The Washington Board of Education first took action in 1993 when it passed a similar resolution. Meadowdale High School, in the Edmonds district, changed mascots from the Chiefs to the Mavericks after 1999.

“The interesting thing about this issue, there are a lot of opinions,” Tulalip Tribes spokeswoman Francesca Hillery said Friday. “It’s context-based. There is no unified voice for this issue.”

Indeed, current Tulalip Tribes board member Don Hatch, interviewed by The Herald in 1993, stood up for the Tomahawks nickname.

“Native Americans have so many things taken away already,” Hatch said in 1993, when he was a member of the Marysville School Board. “When you take away that, you take away another part of us. It’s part of our people’s notoriety,” Hatch said of the Tomahawks name. “As long as it is not done in mockery,” Hatch said in 1993.

In the years since, many opinions may have changed.

“Issues like this are always worth revisiting,” Miller said.

Names using American Indian references can also be an honor, and the Marysville district has involved the Tulalip Tribes in making that happen.

About five years ago, the district needed to change the name of Marysville Junior High to bring consistency to its middle school system. The new name is Totem Middle School — the mascot is the Thunderbird.

“In naming that school, we did go through a partnership with the Tulalip Tribes,” Miller said. The tribes commemorated the new name by carving and raising a totem on school grounds, she said. “It was a joint discussion — what it should be,” Miller said.

With Columbus Day coming this week, Miller also talked about the broader issue of teaching history that may be troubling to many students — whether the subject is slavery or the American Indian wars.

“It should be a balanced view, looking at the things that happened to all the groups involved,” Miller said. “The way we study history has changed in the last few decades. I think we should study history in the broadest way possible.”

And the Marysville-Pilchuck Tomahawks? Should they be relegated to the past?

That’s up to the community.

“Sensibilities do change,” Miller said. “We have a deeper understanding of the impact. It’s certainly worth a discussion.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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