TEWKSBURY — Though Tewksbury’s school year is almost over, debates regarding the “Redmen” mascot have begun to spark up again.
On June 5, an online petition was started by Grace Morris, an alumnus from the Tewksbury Memorial High School Class of 2019, in favor of changing the mascot. The petition’s summary reads:
“Tewksbury is a town that leads in education, sports, and community. However, with a Native American mascot, we are teaching the youth that cultural appropriation is OK. It is time for us as a community to recognize that it is time for change.”
A rising sophomore at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, CA, Morris created the petition after researching the mascot issue for a persuasive document project in her technical writing class. For her project, she interviewed Melissa Feretti, the Chairlady of the Herring Pond Wompanoag Tribe, who, alongside her tribe, has created a letter addressing the offensiveness of Native American mascots to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Ultimately, Feretti pointed to a lack of understanding of cultural appropriation as well as distinctions between different Native American tribes as key contributing factors.
Some in support of the Redmen mascot say its intent is to honor Native Americans, and argue there are Native Americans not insulted by Tewksbury’s mascot. However, in Morris’ report, Ferretti says that Native Americans rarely feel “honored” through the use of Native American mascots.
“We do not feel honored by it,” Feretti said. “The best way to honor native people is to educate themselves on native histories and to respect our inherent rights as indigenous peoples, our rights to our homeland and self determination.”
Morris says that Feretti’s statements point to a need in the community to be open to hearing from Natives offended by the mascot.
“Although not every single Native American in the country is offended by it, many are,” said Morris. “I think it's important for us to listen to those who are offended.”
The mascot issue most recently came under fire during the 2015-2016 school year, where heated debate on the issue sparked town-wide social media support for the Redmen mascot in the form of the “Redmen Here to Stay” Facebook group. This digital advocacy later translated to in-person support, as roughly 500 residents gathered for a town forum on the issue.
The general consensus at the meeting was to keep the mascot as is, despite not hearing from any representatives from any Native American tribes. The issue was ultimately dropped. However, then-Superintendent John O’Connor predicted that the issue would reemerge in the coming years.
Considering modern-day pushes for racial equality and accountability regarding cultural appropriation, Morris believes now may be the right time to take up the issue.
“There are instances all over the United States of people protesting and demanding social justice,” she said. “I believe Tewksbury can hop along on this movement, and move towards a more progressive future.”
Currently, the petition has over 1,500 signatures, and continues to gain support from town residents, as well as Tewksbury Public Schools students and teachers through social media outreach.
However, the petition has been met with some opposition, with a counter-petition with the intent to keep the Redmen mascot launching on June 7. Drawing on the mascot’s historical significance within the town, the petition’s summary reads:
“Great grandparents, grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, and friends have worn this mascot throughout generations and it means something to them. We cannot change everything in the world to accommodate for the few people that get offended by it. The fact is, not many people are offended by it.”
Currently, the counter-petition has just over 900 signatures.
Though she knows the petition alone will not be enough to officially change the mascot, Morris hopes it has opened the door for further discussion.
“I know that alone this petition can not change the minds of everyone that opposes the change in Tewksbury,” she said. “But I think it can spark some debate and conversation.”