It’s not very often that I comment on things like this, but I feel it’s important and necessary so please hear me out. I’ve worked as a school counselor at Pocatello High School for eight years and I’m a former student of Poky High. I’ve had so many positive and wonderful experiences here and I’ve always been proud to be an “Indian.” I first heard rumors of us losing our mascot a couple of years ago when Boise and Teton lost theirs and thought, “There’s no way! Why would they do that to us? We honor the Tribe with the way we portray being an Indian! It’s all about pride and tradition. How could that possibly be offensive?”
Fast forward to a staff meeting earlier this year where my administrator, Lisa Delonas, starts talking to us about wanting to change the Indian mascot. I froze. But why? There wasn’t a court order yet saying we had to, so why? Lisa emotionally continued that it’s because it’s the right thing to do. I folded my arms and sat back in my chair during the rest of that meeting and thought, “Good luck with that, Lisa.” And it was with this attitude I continued to listen to what she had to say. Lisa is a Poky High graduate and former Indianette dancer, her kids attended Poky, and as she puts it she “bleeds red and blue.” So why would someone with so much “love” for our school (please note my use of sarcasm here — any of you who know Lisa knows how much she really, truly loves this school, the students, and the families who come through here) why would she want to change something that has embodied our school spirit for over 100 years??
I’ve read lots and lots of posts and comments from community members and alumni about the proposed/now imminent mascot change, and it’s clear that this is an emotional, deep-seated, hot-button topic. If you’re still reading this, I ask that you do so with open ears and an open mind — even if you’re doing it sitting back in your chair with your arms crossed like I did.
Our school has worked together with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes over many years, removing monikers and symbols that were viewed as offensive, and we have tried our very best to remain respectful of our Indian mascot (which is something the Tribes agree we have done well). Something Lisa said that shook my “I’ll-never-get-behind-this-idea-attitude” was that it’s not about the way we have treated our mascot — it’s about our impact and how other schools have treated it. She shared how she’s seen videos of pep assemblies at other schools where they have scalped our Indian or placed him in a coffin. I can clearly see how that is offensive — anyone can! She also drew my attention to the fact that even if our intentions have been good (because we all know they have been) that we can’t control what other schools will do with our mascot. Our school motto, “Where Everyone is Someone,” doesn’t really mean much if we are ignoring the impact our mascot has on our own kids. We can’t be selective and defend our actions with “they just need to get over it — we’ve been the Indians for over 100 years” or “people are turning into such snowflakes these days” mentality or we need to change our motto to “Where Almost Everyone is Someone.”
Respect begins with understanding. That was a poster I had hanging in my office when I first moved into this building. It’s something I believe and something I teach. I’m not asking any of you to agree with me or change your point of view; I’m asking you to really listen and at least try to understand. I’ve been listening to you. I’ve been hearing you. What you’re saying is that you’re afraid of losing the identity that has been passed down for multiple generations in many of your families. I hear you saying that you’re afraid of losing the history of Pocatello High School and that you’re afraid it won’t stop with just the mascot. I’m hearing calls for the resignation of anyone who proposed this idea or voted in favor of it. I hear you and I understand where you’re coming from. I understand wanting to fight for what’s important to you. I understand the worry that losing the Indian mascot will somehow sever the ties that keep you connected to this school — your school — and the rich history, and the memories, and in some way losing a part of who you are.
I wish you could be in our faculty meetings where we get to hear about how the Indian symbols around the school will remain and won’t be removed. The meetings in which Lisa describes conversations she’s had with members of the Tribes and how positive and exciting they have been. The meetings where we are able to see the vision of the connection and community that is built by choosing a different mascot that represents what it means to have Poky Pride. A mascot we can fully unify under and rally behind. A mascot that can be mocked and made fun of by other schools (who are about to get their rears kicked by said mascot) and no one is hurt by. A mascot that doesn’t require us to change the school motto to “Where Almost Everybody is Somebody.”
This has been a process for me personally, as it is for each of you, but I’ve unfolded my arms and I am now applauding the courage of our principal to choose the (highly) unpopular path simply because it is the right thing to do. She has been criticized, threatened and maligned because she had the strength to put the needs of all (not just most) our students ahead of our beloved mascot. This was a great act of love.
We are not changing history; we are creating history. The Indian mascot will always be deeply felt by anyone who understands the power of Traditionals, the words of loyalty, and the bond that is passed down from one graduating class to the next. However, we are not removing the Poky spirit; we are moving that Poky spirit. We are not a school that was forced to make a change; we are a school that chose to make a change because of the love we have for our students — all of our students. We are a school of integrity, pride, courage and strength, because Poky pride never dies!
It took me a while to understand, but now I do. I shed tears watching my own daughter performing Traditionals knowing that it might be the last time they are done. At one point, I was afraid our school was going to lose the unity, tradition,and pride the Indian mascot gives us which makes this place so unique. But then I understood that it’s just that: a mascot. It doesn’t matter what is chosen next. We are what makes Poky High so unique and special and we are not going away. The next mascot will still embody everything the Indian does — pride, honor, leadership, integrity (I could go on and on). I didn’t understand then, but now I do: A new mascot is just a symbol of what makes us special and no matter what that mascot is we will still have the special spirit that makes our school different from the others.
Like a shirt of mine says “Once and Indian, Always an Indian.” I will always have a connection to the Indian mascot — it’s part of who I am, who we all are. The Indian mascot will still be present in many ways because it’s where we came from, it’s our roots, and its influence will be felt forever because Poky pride never dies. Roll Tribe!
Daniella Long is a counselor at Pocatello High School.