Michigan schools are getting tens of thousands of dollars to pay for everything from school uniforms to new logos painted on gymnasium floors, in an effort to eliminate imagery that depicts racist stereotypes of indigenous people.
The Native American Heritage Fund announced in June that it would grant a portion of $480,000 to four school districts in the state: Chippewa Hills School District, Hartford Public Schools, Lansing School District and Saranac Community Schools.
Chippewa Hills will receive $52,371, Hartford will get $134,249, Lansing will receive $87,500 and Saranac will get $139,319. The rest of the $480,000 went to organizations for other indigenous-related education projects. The fund's board decided the grants, and priority was given to the mascot projects, according to a news release.
“If we fund the decommissioning of racist mascot imagery now, we will have more money in the future for proactive program and curriculum programming,” said Jamie Stuck, chairperson of the Native American Heritage Fund and chairperson for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, in a news release.
The districts selected for funding are not the only districts rebranding: Districts across the state over the past two years have contemplated changing mascots, logos and chants that perpetuate harmful stereotypes about indigenous people, some with the help from previous years' NAHF grants. The money will be distributed in August. It will go directly to mascot and logo rebranding efforts.
Chippewa Hills' school district, in central Michigan, is working to change its Warrior mascot from an image of a Native American person to the image of a knight. The district is also removing arrowhead imagery.
Superintendent Bob Grover said the process began with a meeting in 2018 with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan. At that meeting, it became clear the district's logo had to change.
"The answer is yes, we're going to change," he said. "So we're not going to have big meetings to talk about that. If you don't like that, then I'm sorry, but it's the right thing to do."
Grover said the decision has received little pushback around the community.
The imagery is offensive to many indigenous people: A study from University of Michigan found about half of respondents said they were offended by mascots in chief headdresses. Headdresses and other depictions of Native Americans can be considered offensive because they often perpetuate harmful stereotypes of tribal members. Furthermore, not every tribe regards headdresses as tradition, and headdresses vary in style.
Chippewa Hills received $52,371.20 to rebrand. The grant will help the district slowly phase out items with the old imagery, like uniforms and murals. But the process is still costly, he said.
"I found out that to paint a whole gym wall is $20,000," he said. "You don't think of it as being that expensive, but it is."
Allie Alt, 21, who graduated from Saranac Junior/Senior High School in 2019, said she believed the old mascot, the name of which is an offensive term used to describe skin color and considered by some indigenous people to be a slur, was dated. But people in the community have been vehemently opposed to changing, she said.
"There was always a very strong sense of, this is who we are as a community and this is what will always be," she said.
But Alt believes the mascot needed to change.
"It feels very regressive and (like) holding on to something that should be let go," she said.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan schools get cash to change racist mascot imagery