From ‘offensive and hurtful’ to cultural pride, over 200 gather to offer opinions on ‘Redmen’ mascot

CEDAR CITY — A crowd of more than 200 people gathered Tuesday night in Cedar High School’s auditorium, with more than three dozen people publicly voicing their opinions on whether Cedar High’s “Redmen” mascot should be changed.

Rich Nielsen, Iron County School District’s director of secondary education, speaks during a public hearing on Cedar High’s use of “Redmen” mascot, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 4, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

The public hearing, which lasted more than 90 minutes, was the first of three planned public hearings on the issue, said Rich Nielsen, Iron County School District’s director of secondary education. The other two hearings will be on Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. and on Jan. 14 at 6 p.m.

Read more: What’s in a name? School committee to decide fate of Cedar High’s ‘Redmen’ mascot

Originally, just the two December sessions were planned, but Nielsen said the third one was scheduled for a Monday night in January at the request of Cedar High students. The students were concerned some would be unable to make either of the first two meetings due to other school activities on the schedule, he told the audience.

Following a welcome by CHS principal John Dodds, Nielsen gave a brief overview of the reasons behind the school board’s decision to create a 28-member committee to study the mascot issue. Included on the mascot committee are past, present and future CHS students, faculty and staff members, administrators, and Paiute tribal leaders, he said.

Tile mosaic of a Native American figure on the floor of a hallway at Cedar High School, Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 28, 2018 | Photo by London Richards for St. George News / Cedar City News

Even before Tuesday’s meeting, Nielsen said the committee has already received numerous written responses from the public via email, using the dedicated address mascot@ironmail.com.

“It’s been a very good conversation,” Nielsen said, adding that there is no question about the passion that generations of CHS students have held for their beloved mascot since it was first instituted in 1942.

“It’s abundantly clear the love people have for the mascot,” he said. “We’ve established that. That’s a given.”

However, Nielsen went on to say that since the term “redmen” is viewed as a racial slur by some people, its usage needs to be viewed through a “21st century lens,” recognizing the influence of social media.

“We want to honor the past, the legacy … that’s critical,” he said. “Protecting current and future students, that’s essential.”

Before opening the meeting to the public comments, Nielsen also briefly addressed a few additional questions that have arisen, even though a few of them lie outside the scope of what the committee has been asked to do.

Regarding the potential costs involved in making a switch, Nielsen said that over the past several years, the school has gradually discontinued using Native American symbols or the word “Redmen” on most of its sports team uniforms and instead just have been using the word “Cedar” or the letter “C.”

Some athletic companies such as Adidas have grants available to assist schools making such changes, he said. As for the marquees and other signage, that would be up to the school board to decide how and when to implement changes, should they decide to do so.

There are absolutely no plans to change the school colors from maroon and gold, Nielsen added.

As for what the mascot would be if it’s not the Redmen, Nielsen said that is a topic for future consideration.

“We’re not going down that road right now,” he said.

Regarding the issue of tribal support, Nielsen said the local Paiute tribe has indicated its support for the current process, and even though tribal members’ views may differ on the issue, the group will support the board in its decision.

Pauite Tribe chairwoman Tamra Borchardt-Slayton reads a tribal resolution during a public hearing on Cedar High’s use of “Redmen” mascot, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 4, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

That position was affirmed by Tamra Borchardt-Slayton, chairwoman of the Pauite Indian Tribe of Utah, who was the second person to speak during the public comment period.

Borchardt-Slayton, who is also a member of the mascot committee, read aloud a resolution unanimously passed by the Paiute Tribal Council on Nov. 15.

“The tribal council hereby supports the Iron County County School District in its efforts to carry out its mission by changing the mascot from Redmen to another mascot in order to create a better tomorrow for all students that attend Cedar High School,” she read.

Afterward Borchardt-Slayton clarified that the school board has not yet made that decision, and the intent of the resolution was to affirm the tribe’s support for whatever the board decides to do.

For the next hour and a half, people approached the microphone in succession, nearly all of them adhering to the three-minute time limit as they expressed their views. Their opinions were mixed, as were their demographics, which included Native Americans and Caucasians, both female and male, ranging in age from early teens to early 70s. Many had either attended or currently attend CHS.

Not everyone gave their names as they spoke, but following is a sampling of their comments:

“I cringe when I see Redmen as a mascot,” said a woman who identified herself as a member of the Ute tribe. “It’s uncomfortable to be put into this position.”

“How can you be proud of this? It’s offensive” said another Native American woman, who said the term “redmen” was a throwback to days when white bounty hunters would collect scalps of Native Americans.

Other Native American speakers voiced their support of the mascot.

One man, who graduated from CHS in 1966 and later served in the military, said he has always remained proud of his cultural identity.

“We’re still red inside,” he said, pointing to his chest. “This heart beats red.”

Taniah Sims Henrie, a 2007 CHS graduate and current assistant softball coach, speaks during a public hearing on Cedar High’s use of “Redmen” mascot, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 4, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Taniah Sims Henrie, a 2007 graduate of CHS and a current assistant softball coach at the school, said she’s never viewed the mascot as being derogatory. 

“I’ve never been more proud to be a Redman,” she said, noting that she is a member of the local Paiute tribe.

Another Native American woman said she raised her children to know what a mascot is and how it is chosen for its strengths and admirable qualities.

“People who are offended, I get it, I understand,” she said. “But I don’t need to be offended because you are.”

Another Native American woman said she’d been called many derogatory names before, such as “savage.” She said she doesn’t mind the Redmen mascot and that it doesn’t matter to her whether it is changed.

Several CHS students also chimed in. Several were in support of keeping the current mascot, while others want to see it changed.

“I don’t see how it’s offensive,” one teenage boy said. “It was named Redmen to honor them.”

One student said taking away the mascot would just make the division worse, a sentiment echoed by another student who said he believes the mascot unifies the student body and helps them think more about Native Americans and their culture. Other adults also shared this belief.

However, CHS student Gracia Allen, who was recently chosen as a member of Utah’s first statewide Student Advisory Council, said she found the term Redmen “embarrassing.”

Cedar High School student Gracia Allen speaks during a public hearing on Cedar High’s use of “Redmen” mascot, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 4, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“Its a term that’s more used to mock,” she said, adding that she doesn’t belong to the Native American culture. “I don’t share that history. I can’t claim it,” she said.

Allen said she’d prefer to see the school switch to an animal mascot, mentioning as an example the Falcons (which is used by cross-town rival Canyon View High School).

“The mascot Falcons doesn’t hurt anybody but the Redman does,” she said.

Multiple commenters said they don’t see the issue going away until the mascot is changed.

“Why come back to it every few years? Why not do what’s right?” asked one woman who deemed the mascot as being “hurtful and offensive,” similar to displaying a Confederate flag.

“We can change it now or spend another 10 years talking about it,” said another woman, who suggested switching to a non-offensive mascot.

Another woman called it a “lose-lose” situation.

There’s no way to make everyone in this room happy,” she said. “And how far do you take it?” She raised the question of whether professional sports teams called the Giants would be seen as being offensive to small people.

“I think the tribe should make the final call,” added another man.

One CHS student named Spencer said the issue wasn’t as simple as just a mascot.

“The mascot doesn’t make the school,” he said, “the students make the school.”

As the meeting wound to a close, Nielsen invited anyone who didn’t have a chance to speak Tuesday night to attend either of the upcoming public hearings. Commenters were asked to just speak a total of one time to allow more people the chance to talk on the record. In the meantime, written comments and opinions may be sent via email to mascot@ironschools.org.

Following the Jan. 14 public hearing, members of the mascot committee will have a little over a week to assess their findings and prepare a presentation to be given to the school board at its regular meeting on Jan. 22.

Email: jrichards@stgnews.com

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