Tulalip elders vote to keep Tomahawks mascot in Marysville

The Tulalip Tribes chair said tribal members are conflicted. It leaves the school district in a complicated position.

The Tulalip Semi-Annual General Council voted to reverse a Board of Directors decision to ask the school district to change Marysville Pilchuck High School’s mascot. (Marysville Pilchuck High School)

The Tulalip Semi-Annual General Council voted to reverse a Board of Directors decision to ask the school district to change Marysville Pilchuck High School’s mascot. (Marysville Pilchuck High School)

TULALIP — Marysville Pilchuck High School was to learn a final pick for the school’s new mascot Wednesday, replacing the Tomahawks name that has been around for decades.

But on Tuesday, the Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors sent the Marysville School District a letter announcing that tribal members had voted to retain the mascot.

“We’re conflicted on it,” said Teri Gobin, chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes. “For one, the elders asked the school district to name it the Tomahawks way back because we were invisible. That’s with great pride that they accomplished that.”

But, Gobin said, “it’s a new day and age.”

Earlier this year, the Tulalip board unanimously voted to ask the school district to remove both the Totem Middle School Thunderbirds and Marysville Pilchuck Tomahawks under state House Bill 1356. The law allows tribes to veto mascots they deem culturally insensitive if they belong to schools with boundaries on tribal reservation or trust lands. Tulalip students attend Marysville schools.

According to Tulalip member and psychologist Stephanie Fryberg’s late 2000s research, “exposure to American Indian mascot images has a negative impact on American Indian high school and college students’ feelings of personal and community worth.”

Marysville Pilchuck began working to pick a new mascot in September, led by two committees of students, staff and district residents. State law requires the school district to consult with the local tribes, but the district could go ahead with the change without tribal support.

During the Tulalip Tribes’ semiannual general council meeting this fall, tribal members voted to withdraw the request to change the high school mascot. On Friday, the Tulalip Board of Directors ratified the General Council’s vote.

Les Parks, a former Tulalip Tribes councilmember, said he takes pride in the Tomahawks mascot. He played basketball and football for Marysville High School and can be seen here in the top row, second from left.

Les Parks, a former Tulalip Tribes councilmember, said he takes pride in the Tomahawks mascot. He played basketball and football for Marysville High School and can be seen here in the top row, second from left.

Les Parks, a Tulalip elder and former tribal councilmember, said he feels the Tomahawks mascot continues to be an important way to recognize the existence of the Tulalip Tribes.

“As each passing generation moves on and a new generation emerges we are losing more and more of our Indian identity,” he said. “… So it’s important to me, and to our Indian culture, that we maintain as much of that as possible. The Marysville Tomahawk meaning fits right into that category of just reminding us who we are every day, and what we stand for and where we came from and what we live like and where we’re going in the future.”

Many of those in favor of keeping the mascot are elders.

Tulalip elder Don Hatch is 82. He attended Marysville High, and his children went to Marysville Pilchuck.

“And the two who played sports both got letterman jackets and they’re proud of it,” he said. “They wear it all around.”

Terry Fast Horse, a Tulalip resident of Lummi and Lakota descent, said he helped his high school change its mascot in the 1980s in Portland.

He said it’s important to use culturally appropriate mascots to prevent harmful stereotypes.

Those stereotypes directly affect Tulalip youth, Gobin said.

The Tulalip Youth Council came to the tribal board shortly after Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill into law and lobbied for the tribes to ask the district to change the mascots.

“They came in and some of them cried,” Gobin said.

But the youth currently attending Marysville schools were not able to vote at the general council meeting, she said.

“You don’t want it to damage the kids,” Gobin said. “I think it is the day and age to make those moves … but I will honor what the people want.”

Gobin said it’s ultimately up to the district to keep the name or follow the Tribes’ initial request.

“Even if they keep it the Tomahawks, we expect them to uphold any disciplinary action that would have to take place to make sure that they aren’t using it in a prejudiced or derogatory way,” Gobin said. “That’s basically the bottom line. … We don’t want to see our children be hurt.”

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

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