Tony Hatch coaches wrestling practice at Marysville Pilchuck High School in 2021 in Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Tony Hatch coaches wrestling practice at Marysville Pilchuck High School in 2021 in Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

‘Conflicted’ feelings in Tulalip: School mascot ‘Tomahawks’ to stay

A state law change fanned a year of debate over whether the mascot is offensive. Tulalip elders tended to support it.

MARYSVILLE — The School Board voted Monday to keep Marysville Pilchuck High School’s nickname, the “Tomahawks.”

With the passage of state House Bill 1356 in 2021, tribes can veto mascots they deem culturally insensitive at schools with boundaries on tribal reservation or trust lands. The bill’s main sponsor was state Rep. Debra Lekanoff, the only Native American person serving in the legislature.

Marysville School Board members voted 4-0 Monday to keep the Tomahawks mascot but change the logo “to ensure that it does not discriminate or disrespect the Tulalip Tribes or any Indigenous community.” The board pledged to keep working with the Tulalip Tribes, whose students attend Marysville schools.

Board member Wade Rinehardt was absent from the meeting.

Last year, members of the Tulalip Youth Council told the tribes’ board of directors they were tired of being tokenized by the mascot, and that it doesn’t “add to their value as a tribal student,” Deyamonta Diaz, education advocate for the Tulalip Tribes, then told The Daily Herald. They shared personal experiences and asked for further cultural education in the district.

After that meeting, the Tulalip Tribes asked the district to remove the mascot.

But the Tulalip Tribes’ semiannual general council voted in favor of maintaining the Tomahawks mascot, by a vote of 92-83. That vote was swayed partially by tribal elders. Decades ago, they say, they fought for the mascot as a means of being “seen.”

But Tulalip students reiterated that they have experienced racism because of the Tomahawks label. And they said changing the mascot is a natural first step in making Marysville schools safer for Native American students.

“I realize that some of the young people are upset with some of the things,” Tulalip elder Don Hatch said Monday. “But their parents and grandparents voted for it to stay there.”

Teri Gobin, chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes, has said tribal leadership was “conflicted,” and it was left up to the school district to decide.

“The National Congress of American Indians, the American Psychological Association, the NAACP, and the National Education Association and our Tulalip Youth Council — whether it was a vote, a resolution, a recommendation or a research-based study — these are just a few of the many groups that recognize the negative and harmful effects of retaining Native American symbols as mascots in today’s education system,” said Will Hill, a Marysville Pilchuck High School teacher.

He continued: “I can’t fault anyone’s emotional tie or connection to the Tomahawk. In fact, I respect it. However, I can find fault with a district that doesn’t make a decision that protects the students of today and tomorrow.”

Decades of academic research has shown how Native American mascots can negatively affect youth.

Exposure to such mascots lowers Indigenous youth’s “self-esteem, community worth, academic goals and positive affect” and “increases dysphoria, hostility, and depression,” according to two studies from 2008 and 2011. And according to studies in 2011, 2017 and 2019, the use of Native mascots “increases implicit stereotyping,” like associating Native Americans with primitiveness. The mascots also heighten explicit discrimination, like verbal and physical abuse, against Native Americans, the research concluded.

“Research shows all of this is connected to violence against women to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, to police killing brown people,” Tulalip Tribal citizen Theresa Sheldon said. “It’s all of these things of how you dehumanize a whole group of people, works in the benefit of society. And that’s what we’re living in.”

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; isabella.breda@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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