Lisa Delonas

Lisa Delonas

I would like to take a moment to share a few of my thoughts regarding Pocatello High School’s mascot.

I have been a proud Pocatello Indian for 40 years. When I was a young girl, I remember the overwhelming feeling of pride and adoration whenever I saw the Pocatello High School Indianettes perform. I reveled in the goose bumps that covered my body as the music to Traditionals built, then finally ended with the crescendo of the arrow being broken.

I grew up knowing that breaking that arrow meant we were ready to fight for our school and I dreamed of becoming an Indianette. Finally, my time to be an Indianette arrived and I was privileged to learn from some of the ShoBan women how to make my headdress.

I wore this headdress throughout my time as an Indianette. I was living my dream. I was so proud to be a Pocatello Indian. This meant taking on the responsibility of living up to what it meant to be an “Indian.” Some of those traits included always representing myself, my family and my school with honor, respect and striving for excellence.

I fell in love with and married another Pocatello Indian, and we raised two amazing kids who became Pocatello Indians. My daughter was an Indianette and my son played football for PHS. Pocatello High School was a family tradition before me and has continued through me.

Now my grandkids proudly tell others they will be attending PHS. The phrase “red and blue runs through my veins” is certainly true in my family. Being an “Indian” has been part of my identity for a very long time. It has been an honor to be a Pocatello Indian.

This sentiment is not unique to me or my family. Pocatello High School is 128 years old. For three quarters of a century it was the only school in town. Literally thousands of students, staff, parents and other community members have felt the spirit of PHS, and proudly call themselves Pocatello High School “Indians.”

When I became the principal of PHS, I committed myself to helping my students feel that same sense of pride and identity. I wanted to build on the great legacy that already existed and make sure the school was honoring its mascot and living up to its motto of “Pocatello High School: Where Everybody is Somebody.”

Occasionally I would be asked about the Indian mascot and I would honestly reply that it was an honor to be the Indians and that we were doing all that we could to be respectful and to represent Native Americans in a positive way. Our intent was good.

I had a paradigm shift after I decided to do some research. I read articles, listened to interviews of Native Americans speaking about this issue, and spoke frankly with Native American students, parents and other tribal members I knew.

This past year, a school-wide training gave me clarity and solidified what I had come to understand: That our good intentions were not enough. I asked a teacher to share a presentation with our faculty regarding her training in Equity in Education.

During this training, we learned about the importance of distinguishing between one’s intent and one’s impact. We learned that one’s intent could be pure and good and still have a negative impact. We learned that the impact is what matters.

Sadly, when we are caught with a misalignment between our intentions and our impact, we focus on how WE feel rather than on how we made others feel. We try to defend and justify our feelings and intent rather than owning up to and acknowledging our impact.

Pocatello High School’s use of Indians as her mascot is a case of intent not aligning with impact. I can assert with all sincerity that our intent has been to represent Indians in a respectful and honorable manner.

Over the years, as we have gained more cultural insight and sensitivity, listened to the voices of Native American individuals and organizations, and engaged in discussions with our local tribe, we have changed and discontinued practices that we learned were disrespectful, perpetuated negative stereotypes or misrepresented a group of people. While we have not been perfect, we have always had good intentions.

Unfortunately, our intentions, regardless of merit, are limited. We have many Native American students who do not attend our assemblies because they are uncomfortable with the Indianettes performances of Traditionals. We also have no influence over the actions of rival schools. During my six years as principal, I have learned of rival schools holding pep assemblies where scalped Indians lay dead in coffins.

I have seen posters reading “Let’s scalp the Indians” and T-shirts with exaggerated caricature of snarling Indians, and more. Simply by being “The Indians” we have created opportunities for others to mock, attack, disrespect, denigrate and de-humanize Native Americans.

We can no longer in good conscience say that we are honoring Native Americans. We may have intended to, but our impact proves otherwise. Our school motto “Where Everybody is Somebody” means nothing if we knowingly ignore the needs and feelings of the very people we claim to represent.

When issues of race or culture or the struggle of any population are brought to the lens of others, it’s easy to talk about how it makes us feel — especially when we are the decision makers needing to make a decision.

But it is a decision that must be made. Superintendent Howell, school board members, alumni, students and community members, it is time. We must honor the Pocatello Indians by retiring our mascot. Now is the time for change

I understand that change can be difficult. Some PHS alum will worry about losing an important piece of school history and tradition, but we can rally behind the fact that change itself is a longstanding part of what makes Pocatello High School amazing.

A recent PHS graduate, Rian Mirly wrote, “At Pocatello High’s foundation in 1892, women were not allowed to vote. From 1892 until 1898, over a hundred black Americans were lynched every year. In 1914 the school was burnt to the ground only to be rebuilt. Pocatello High is no stranger to change, and while change always feels uncomfortable, past changes have been met with strength and confidence. A mascot change is no different.”

I agree with Rian. A mascot change will be met with strength and confidence. I have already seen this strength and confidence in the dialogue of many of our past and current student body members and among the staff at Pocatello High School as they understand and embrace the need for this change.

Many of our past and current student body members have expressed their support for a mascot change. The staff at Pocatello High School supports this request. Most importantly, our local Tribal leadership supports this request.

It has taken us a long time, but we are finally listening to the voices that matter — the voices directly impacted by Native American mascots.

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, I appeared before the school board to make a recommendation to retire the mascot at Pocatello High School. I also asked that the board take this action swiftly. Changing our mascot is the right thing to do, and delaying the decision sends a message that doing the right thing is open for discussion.

We understand that we will hear passionately from both sides of this issue; however, public opinion will not change the fact that this is the right thing to do. If we were discussing desegregating schools today, we would not hesitate to act — and we should not hesitate now.

Most recently, Boise High School made their mascot change with expediency and without a long, drawn out public debate because it was the right thing to do. Let us follow suit and be on the right side of history. A new mascot is essential to Pocatello High School’s continuing pursuit of honor, respect and striving for excellence.

Lisa Delonas is the principal of Pocatello High School. Lisa is a native of Pocatello and graduated from PHS in 1984.