MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin superintendent of education has sent a
letter to all school administrators in the state urging them to begin a
process with the community that would lead to a change in American Indian
The letter from state Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster does not demand or
mandate that schools change the American Indian mascot, but rather
encourages communities to come together to find alternatives.
“The letter was put out with the hope that communities would have
conversations. In many parts of the state, these conversations have taken
place,” said Joseph Donovan, spokesman for the Department of Public
Since the 1960s, at least 25 schools have changed their American Indian
mascot and some schools changed the logo and kept the name. (An accurate
count of schools that have maintained the American Indian mascot in one
form or another was not available.)
In her letter, Burmaster cited legislative bills now in the state Senate
and Assembly that would affect changes in mascot names. The companion bills
open the door for any resident of a school district who is offended by a
mascot name to file a complaint with the state superintendent.
The bills, both of which are still in committee, require that a hearing be
held with the state superintendent. The school district would be required
to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the use of the ethnic
name, nickname, logo or mascot does not promote discrimination, pupil
harassment or stereotyping.
Some Wisconsin media have reported that Burmaster mandated the change and
that a $1,000 fine would be imposed if any school failed to cooperate.
The proposed legislation provides for a maximum fine of $1,000 per day in
which the school is noncompliant should the superintend rule against the
Burmaster stated that the Department of Public Instruction supports the
There are 11 American Indian nations in Wisconsin with populations that
cover most of the state. The Ho-Chunk, in the southern portion of the state
at Black River Falls, is very close to Tomah. Many Ho-Chunk students attend
Tomah uses the nickname “Indians,” and there is some support to change the
name. The Ho-Chunk, however, are not adamant that the logo or nickname be
Tomah school board member Dennis Workman favors the change. He told the
Tomah Journal that the arguments to keep the nickname are weak and the two
most-used comments from proponents are: “First, ‘It has always been that
way’; and second, it’s ‘Don’t let the Native Americans have their way.'”
In Osceola, just up the road from the Ho-Chunk Nation, the school nickname
is “Chieftains.” There are no plans to change that name, according to
school officials. Osceola was a Seminole chief who refused to leave the
area, and the school nickname evokes a sense of pride and honor, school
“As you know, I believe that stereotypical American Indian logos do not
support sound educational practice because they interfere with a school’s
efforts to provide accurate information related to the history, culture and
tribal sovereignty of American Indian nations,” Burmaster stated in her
Marquette University changed its mascot name from “Warriors” to “Golden
Eagles” after some heated debate. The students voted for the new mascot
The American Psychological Association adopted a resolution calling for an
end to the use of American Indian mascots. In the association’s comments,
it stated that there is a potential negative impact on students’ mental
health — particularly that of American Indian students — with the use of
such mascots or symbols.
Burmaster also stated that a new initiative in Wisconsin would guarantee a
quality education for every child through attention to and respect for
diversity, including differences in race and culture.
In Menomonee, the nickname “Indians” was dropped in favor of “Mustangs,”
only to be changed back a year later after a school board election removed
three members who agreed with the change. Menomonee is located in the
northwestern part of the state and near several Ojibwe nations.
Some school administrators read Burmaster’s letter and threw it away.
Others reported it to the school boards. Few schools have expressed any
strong desire to make a mascot name change on their own.
All tribal governments in the state, the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council,
the Wisconsin Indian Education Association and other organizations have
expressed opposition to American Indian mascots and nicknames.
The WIEA made a list of 38 schools with mascots that are considered the
most egregious offenders of the mascot issue.
The campaign to change mascot names on a national scale began after the
1965 Civil Rights Act by the National Congress of American Indians. That
organization has continued its nationwide effort since then.