Steven McCurdy

Steven McCurdy

CORRECTION: Steven McCurdy said that after re-reading the 500 pages of documents provided to him by School District 25 he found two errors in his column. First, there were two School District 25 school board members at the school district's meeting with the tribes, according to documents provided to him by the district. McCurdy had incorrectly stated in his column that documents stating how many board members attended the meeting had not been provided by the district. Also McCurdy said that the district did provide 10 mascot-related emails from one School District 25 school board member in the 500 pages he initially received. He had incorrectly stated in his column that there were no mascot-related emails from any of the five school board members included in the 500 pages. McCurdy's column has been corrected below.

A few local residents have referred to Pocatello citizens opinions expressed thru the Save Pocatello Indian Petition as spam. And that is exactly how SD25 is treating you. Here is why.

I started the petition to Save the PHS Indian logo, because I believed that once again the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 and its Board of Trustees were rushing through a decision of public importance and controversy, one that was politically correct, but perhaps not in the best interest of the school, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes or Pocatello.

With that in mind, I made a record request for all documents and emails concerning the mascot issue. I use the term mascot loosely because Pocatello High School does not have a mascot. As the Native American Guardian Association has stated, PHS has a logo. The Indian mascot was done away with almost 50 years ago. That aside, I received over 500 pages of content. Information that was informative in piecing together some of what and how this decision was foisted on the public. Notably absent from the documentation were documents and emails sent to and from some of the Board of Trustees, including letters from the petition signatories. This seemed suspicious.

What I discovered was that though a letter had been written to the state concerning mascots in 2019, this immediate change seems to have been instigated by the School District, more specifically by Principal Lisa Delonas. In one letter, she stated that she wanted to be the one to present it to the tribe and to “meet with the tribes.” She believed it was “history in the making.”

In addition, these documents showed that Principal Delonas had worked behind the scenes for at least a month to garner support for the change with key allies, keeping the public and opponents out of the loop. She conversed with over a hundred individuals asking them to not let this get out to the public. At some point, she and some board members meet with the Tribes. 

Again it was clear from the recipient headers that documents are missing. I made two more attempts to receive relevant documents as one could see that various emails were addressed to parties that didn’t provide information or between individuals that seemed likely to have received a response, including one that asked Principal Delonas how the decision to change the mascot at this time came about? That interesting response email is still unaccounted for.

I made several more requests to recover additional missing documents, wondering how it was possible that the School District had not received any of the petitions from the Change.org petition as they are generated and emailed periodically after the petitioners signs the petition. At the time of the request, it totaled over 2,000 people; it is now over 3,300 people. Each time I requested missing documentation, district spokesperson Courtney Fisher assured me that all relevant documents had been handed over.

Since it seemed no Board of Trustees members were receiving the petition, on Oct. 13 I added Courtney Fisher to the list of SD25 decision makers to see if she would get the notifications. She sent a terse email within 24 hours, asking me to not only remove her name but the names of the actual decision makers on the Board of Trustees. It was now clear they could receive the emails if they desired.

I posted this latest revelation on Facebook where some community members accused me of spamming the Board of Trustees. One asked me how I would like being spammed with 3,000 emails. (Only periodic emails are sent.) I responded that if I was a decision maker and each email represented a citizens’ opinion I would feel obligated and privileged to hear their point of view. Obviously the School District does not feel the same way. When I said to Fisher that I was still trying to get to the “mystery” of why they had not provided me with any documentation verifying that board members had received constituents’ Change.org petitions, she replied, “There is no mystery!” I am not sure exactly what that meant. The real irony is that Save the Pocatello Indians was being accused of spamming efforts while the district itself was claiming not to have received any of those supposed “spam” signer notifications at all.

Ever wonder why you never hear back from your local board representative when you write asking about an issue of importance? Perhaps it’s because they, too, think it is spam. Do you really think that no one submitted any letters to any of their representatives? That is what they would have me and you believe. I didn’t believe it either. I was starting to wonder why they were hiding documents and/or if they were simply using their private emails for discussions. I believed it was virtually impossible that in addition to the letters sent to the SD25 communications emails, that Board Members didn’t also receive emails and documents on the subject.

Then on Oct. 16, I received an email from Fisher that Janie Gebhardt had handed over approximately 50 emails and documents concerning the Indian logo controversy. It raised numerous questions. Why had it taken over a month to obtain these documents? Why had it taken four additional hours to get these documents when most had “Indian mascot” written in the subject line and been easy to find? The first 500 pages had only required six hours of research and copy to obtain. Finally, why was I still not provided the documents specifically requested? And perhaps most interesting, why hadn’t any of the other trustees submitted these exact same emails and documents, as the vast majority were sent to each of the trustee members, as identified in the recipient header line?

So what was in the letters? The vast majority are letters in-favor of keeping the logo, including one that said that the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes created a poll on their Facebook page last year during the Teton high school “Redskin mascot” controversy. Of those that took the poll, 72 percent chose “agree — keep the mascot” and 28 percent chose “disagree with the mascot.” That letter didn’t support the district’s pre-determined outcome. Maybe that is why they didn’t want to turn over these emails.

There were documents concerning several other polls. A Washington Post poll in 2019 asked Native Americans to pick the the word that best described how they felt about the the Redskins name: proud, indifferent, annoyed, content, satisfied or disappointed. A majority of respondents said proud. These results were in line with a 2016 poll that found only 9 percent of Native Americans described themselves as offended by the Redskin name.

Another Washington Post poll of tribal members said that Redskins was not disrespectful by 75 percent to 20 percent margin with 6 percent of the tribe having no opinion.

This information is controversial yet the citizens of Pocatello should have been aware. As one of the letters stated, “It’s hard to believe that you hadn’t already made your decision on the name change for Pocatello High School before the meeting Tuesday, seeing as you didn’t take any time to discuss it among yourselves before making a decision.”

Another letter pointed out “that the 2005, Stephanie Fryberg Study which concludes that Native American sports imagery may contribute to low self-esteem and suicide among native youth, was widely criticized in the social science community for issues pertaining to gross generalization and the tactic of effectively priming the study participants to elicit a desired outcome.” In other words, one of the very studies used to justify your decision, and Mrs. Delonas’ proposal, may in fact be biased. The author continues, “It also asserts that the study is and in and of itself a humiliating stereotyping of Native Americans as fragile and weak minded.” The school board should be ashamed of its actions in not presenting this type of conflicting information to the community.

The same writer asks, “Objectivity to truth suggests that if native names and images were in anyway harmful, then why would so many tribal schools uphold the very same images to represent their sports teams as the ones being eradicated elsewhere? I have to add, if it is so damaging to individuals why does Fort Hall High School continue to use the Chiefs?” With this one argument the school district’s argument is completely nonsensical.

All but one of the letters in the new batch was in favor of the keeping the Indian as the logo of Pocatello High School. Only one seems to have been counted in the School District’s letters in favor of keeping the mascot. I have still not been informed by the district if the petition signers’ opinions are being recognized by the school district or board. Once again the process of a controversial issue is flawed. It seems that the citizen that responded to the Save the Pocatello Indian Logo Facebook post was correct, the School District and board members really do look at your opinions as spam. If you think the process has been flawed, sign the petition at change.org/PocatelloIndians.

Pocatello native Steven McCurdy is a cultural travel documentary filmmaker and is on the board of the Beaux-Arts Academy, a school in Provo, Utah, that teaches classical art and architecture. McCurdy currently resides in South Jordan, Utah.