OPINION — There is no possible way for the members of the Iron County School District to justify, defend and perpetuate the nickname used to identify Cedar City High School.
No matter how you slice it, the nickname Redmen is offensive and a group of Cedar City residents is trying to have it changed.
They understand that it is disrespectful, insensitive, an insult to those with American Indian heritage.
Just as you wouldn’t nickname sports teams the Blackmen, the Brownmen, or the Whitemen, you shouldn’t name them the Redmen.
Particularly in a community with a history of ethnic insensitivity that ranges from town officials participating in minstrel shows to the horror of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, when the local militia disguised itself as American Indians to attack a wagon train making its way west from Arkansas and killing 120 men, women and children.
There are reasons why Southern Utah is 93 percent white.
These are just two.
And I can honestly say I understand why somebody would not wish to live in a place where they are not welcomed or at least afforded basic human dignity and respect.
There’s more to this sad story, of course, in that the school district had plans to keep most of this behind closed doors.
There is a meeting of the Cedar High Mascot Committee tonight to decide what recommendations to make regarding the name change.
There were two meetings designated for public discussion, however there were also two private meetings on the matter, which were certainly not within the spirit and intent of the state’s Open and Public Meeting Act. Protests by this news agency and the public forced the committee to make tonight’s meeting open to the public. We don’t even know who the committee members are. I guess we will find out tonight.
But as one of the attorneys who pressed for the open meeting said, “Public issues must be decided in a public way.”
We’re not sure exactly what was discussed during the previous meetings, although I would expect this news agency to file a request for the minutes of those meetings under the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act. It would be imperative, as the watchdog for the community and the news outlet of public record, to obtain those meeting notes and tell the voters just how much “candor” existed in those meetings. Did anybody step over the lines of decency or civility? If so, the public needs to know.
This sort of thing is actually nothing new in Cedar City where it wasn’t that terribly long ago when city council members would sometimes drop in at the mayor’s house to discuss issues out of the public’s view.
I caught them doing it.
You can pretty well get an idea that illegal meetings are taking place when there is little discussion during the city council meetings but the issues all pass with unanimous approval.
The Cedar City Council soon got it to the point of posting its appearance in the annual Christmas parade as a meeting because the mayor and, at the very least, a voting majority, would be in the same place at the same time.
While this mascot committee is not setting a budget or voting on an ordinance of any kind, it is still working on a matter of public interest and cannot duck public scrutiny. There could be a budget issue if a name change requires new signage and uniforms. More importantly, we are entitled to know who is clinging to insensitive racial attitudes.
The use of Redmen as a nickname for Cedar High isn’t something that suddenly became insensitive. It has always been an insult, it will remain an insult, a fact that those who respond to the dog whistles don’t seem to understand. It’s just that now, people are beginning to stand up a little firmer to bigotry and ignorance.
We haven’t, and probably never will, erase that sort of thing from the planet, but decency demands that we continue that fight.
This isn’t only a Cedar City thing. We’ve seen other colleges and high schools faced with the same problem. Remember the pain, anger and teeth-gnashing when Dixie State University transitioned from Rebels to Trailblazers?
We also have pro teams, from the Washington Redskins to the Cleveland Indians, that have come under fire.
Some colleges use names, like the Utah Utes and Florida Seminoles, that are sanctioned by the tribes.
And others, that one would believe to be offensive, are actually in another category, like the Chicago Blackhawks, who named their team after the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army that fought during World War I and was named the Blackhawk Division after Chief Blackhawk, an American Indian leader; or Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish, named after the Irish immigrants who fought for the Union during the Civil War in what became the Irish Brigade. The brigade’s chaplain was The Rev. William Corby, C.S.C, who later was named the third president of Notre Dame.
There will be those, I am sure, who will dig in their heels and cling to the Redmen moniker, claiming it is a tie to the legacy of the area or some such nonsense.
But, quite frankly, there are other names that could be more fitting, from the Miners to the Pioneers. Either name would be perfectly accurate and acceptable as a tribute to Cedar City’s history.
But, it’s time to retire the Redmen, just as they retired the minstrel shows that the community used to think were so funny.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.
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