Ammon Republican Rep. Chad Christensen, who represents Teton County, has posted on his social media account that he supports maintaining the current Teton High School mascot the Redskins. He is the highest level government official to express public support of keeping the mascot.
“I stand with those that support keeping tradition,” Christensen wrote Saturday morning on his Facebook page, Chad Christensen for Idaho. “I support Teton Valley using the name and the mascot at their high school, in honor of the Native American! I am fed up with political correctness and oversensitivity! Tradition is important!”
Christensen also wrote that the name “did not originate as a negative term.” The earliest known use of the word cites a translation from an Indian chief referring to his people as “redskins,” according to a 2016 Washington Post story exploring the word’s origin. Other records from the early 1800s also show Natives using the term to refer to themselves or their tribes.
According to the Post article, an announcement in an 1863 Minnesota newspaper declares, “The State reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red skin sent to Purgatory. This sum is more than the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth.” In 1898, Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defined “redskins” as “often contemptuous.”
Locally, the first mention of the Redskin mascot in the Teton Valley News came in 1936 in a high school sporting report. Before that, the only mention of “redskin” in the TVN was in reference to Native Americans. A 1936 issue of the TVN read, “This country needs more of the immigration that made it what it is — it is NOT redskin country, it’s people who came from Europe and it needs many millions of more of the same kind.”
Teton School District 401 board members will hear public comment regarding the high school mascot at the July 8 board meeting which will be held at the high school’s auditorium that evening in anticipation of hosting a large group of residents.
In April, school board chair Chris Isaacson said the issue of the high school mascot needed to be resolved by the November school board elections before she placed the discussion on the July agenda. She said that she didn’t want the mascot issue to become a political focus during the elections where she would rather see school board candidates focus on student achievement and the district’s strategic plan.
According to a report by the Associated Press last year, “At the end of 2017, at least 49 high schools in 20 states still used the nickname that some people consider a racist slur against Native Americans, down from at least 93 before 1990. A total of 41 high schools had dropped the name, while another three closed or merged with another school that used a different mascot.”
Since April, Teton Valley residents have mobilized to support their various positions. The Save the Redskins Facebook page which has at least 1,000 members, has started a GoFundMe account to support rallying events, while a petition is circulating to support changing the mascot.
The redskin mascot first become an issue in Teton County in 2013. In 2013 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, open 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. Woolstenhulme conceded at the end of the meeting, which left some school board members in tears because of the intensity of the evening.
In 2013, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes supported changing the name.