DRIGGS — Members of the Native American Guardians Association recently spoke at a community gathering at Teton High School attended by more than 100 people who came to hear the Washington, D.C.-based organization’s message that the word “redskin” isn’t offensive.
“One thing I have always learned in any debate, you listen then be heard,” said Mark One Wolf, a panel guest from NAGA, at the start of the meeting. “Who in the world could be offended by redskins? We can universally agree that context and intent is important. I take pride in that word.”
Members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes from Fort Hall sat through the five NAGA panelists’ discussion before standing and saying that they disagreed with the event’s message. The word “redskin” has gripped the Driggs community in controversy recently over efforts to get rid of Teton High School’s Redskins mascot.
“I am a Teton, and I go back seven, 10, 20 generations of this whole land right here,” said Randy’L Teton of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes to the community members gathered at the meeting. “I’m offended you came here, not asking us how we feel. We’re all from this land. We’re the original Teton family, and you did not ask us how we feel. Hear us out, we come to this area all of the time. I don’t have anything against you people. I’m a Teton, and the redskin name bothers me.”
Teton was one of nine members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes who attended the NAGA meeting. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are sponsoring another panel discussion at 7 p.m. June 26 at the Teton High School auditorium titled “Native Perspectives on the Mascot.”
Panelists will include Teton; Amanda Blackhorse, who is a licensed clinical social worker and a member of the Navajo Nation who has been an activist regarding the Washington Redskins NFL team name; Michelle Beitinger, a Native American who has children in Teton School District 401; Larry Teton, an elder with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes; and Sergio Maldonado, a Northern Arapaho Tribal member who was appointed by former President George H.W. Bush to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education.
At last week’s community meeting, NAGA said its message is to “educate, not eradicate” Native American imagery and symbols in schools and sports teams. The nonprofit’s mailing address, according to the IRS, is in Virginia.
Throughout much of the two-hour meeting, the NAGA panel’s presentation was met with standing ovations after each speaker completed his or her presentation.
Eunice Davison, a Dakota Sioux and enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Tribe from North Dakota, said Teton High School’s mascot is not a mascot, but a symbol and an image. She encouraged the group in attendance to not believe the “changers,” referring to people who want the high school’s mascot to be changed. She said that newcomers to the community come in and forced themselves down the throats of locals. She criticized the local newspaper, a local school board member’s editorial that ran in the newspaper and warned that people who want to change the mascot are no different than what the Nazis did in Germany.
“We can’t possibly know and understand what people are going to be offended by,” added One Wolf. “It’s unfair to call you racists. I see a heavy and deep connection to heritage in this town. Thank you all for standing up and educating yourself to understand both sides of the argument.”
After NAGA’s presentation, the panel opened discussion from the audience. Ladd Edmo, vice chairman of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, took the stage and spoke about the need for education about Native American issues in schools and presented his perspective to the group. He read from a prepared statement that he is planning on submitting to the Teton school board prior to its July 8 meeting, when the mascot will be discussed. In his letter, Edmo referenced old newspaper articles that advertised rewards for the scalps of Native Americans, paying $50 for the “redskins” of men and $25 for those of women and children.
“This is the Idaho and tribal history that is missing from public school districts,” said Edmo.
He then offered up the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes’ diversity training and Native American curriculum that is available to school teachers and school districts in Idaho.
State Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, attended the meeting wearing a “Save the Redskins” T-shirt. He posted a picture on Facebook of Teton Valley resident Clint Calderwood helping an elderly member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes out of the auditorium at the end of the night and wrote about Calderwood, “He put his feelings aside and showed love and compassion.”
Yvette Tuell of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes argued at the meeting that “redskin” is not a positive word. A community member in attendance asked if racism would go away if the Teton High School mascot was changed. Tuell said it would not, but added that it would be a place to start.
Teton Valley resident Sierra Furniss stood up at the meeting and asked what could Teton High School’s mascot be changed to that wouldn’t be offensive.
Tuell’s daughter, Derena, suggested the buffalo should be the high school’s new mascot, thus maintaining Native American imagery and heritage in Teton Valley.
After the event, local resident and member of the Save the Redskins, Doug Wilson, said, “Last night was a step in the right direction. That conversation at the end was way unorganized, but the take-away was very positive. There is work going on behind the scene to help clear (this issue) up.”
In March, a member of the Teton Valley community addressed the Teton school board asking that the board consider taking up the issue of changing the Teton High School Redskins mascot. Since then, the school board decided to take up a public discussion about the mascot while social media conversations have followed a similar vein of passionate opinions around keeping or changing the mascot at the high school.
In 2013, Teton School District Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme told the school board that he was making the decision to remove the mascot from Teton High School despite generations of his own family who had graduated from Teton High School as Redskins, himself included.
The school board at the time, moved by public pressure, opened the conversation up to the greater community. In a historic meeting which filled the Teton High School auditorium, the public showed up and loudly protested the decision. At the end of the meeting Woolstenhulme rescinded his request to change the mascot. The meeting left some school board members in tears because of the intensity of the evening.