Redmen Back on the Agenda
For those of you who didn’t attend Monday night’s MAPS School Board meeting, with the Redmen nickname issue being the headliner, I offer my recollection of what I saw and heard over the full 244 minutes. Yes… 244 minutes. That’s four hours and change.
First, the crowd was smaller than I expected. The way the “Keep the Name” folks had been blasting on social media about the need to attend and let their voices be heard, I was surprised at the absence of any sizeable red shirt contingent.
After the business as usual portion of the meeting, the floor was opened to public comment. Over the next 3 hours plus, a parade of concerned parties took their turn at the podium and used the allotted 5 minutes to express their feelings on whether or not the nicknames, Redmen and Redettes, should be retained, or retired.
Keep the name
Not only was there no red wave of speakers, I counted just 3 who stood in support of keeping the name as it is. One was a Native American who said when she competed in sports at MSHS, she was proud to be known as a Redette.
Another “keep” speaker questioned the work of the research committee which had previously presented their report recommending a change. The speaker noted that only studies which supported “change” had been cited in the report, suggesting that the committee went into the process with a preconceived notion and searched only for information that supported their position.
Later, a board member familiar with the research project, suggested they had searched for professional opinions representing both sides, but found little to no support for ethnic nicknames.
Change the name
Aside from that, more than two dozen others spoke in favor of changing the nickname, joining the growing number of institutions nationwide that are dropping nicknames and mascots that many consider racial slurs, or at the very least, insensitive references that don’t reflect the mission of their school.
Included among those advocating for change were two representatives of local tribal organizations. Rodney Loonsfoot of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and Tyler LaPlaunt of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians both indicated their organizations were in favor of MSHS doing away with the Redmen nickname. They don’t consider it something that honors their heritage, but rather appropriates their identity in a way they don’t appreciate, or approve of.
This is important because one of the arguments of the “keepers” has been that the decision should be made based in part on the position of our area Native Americans. Certainly there are individuals, as cited above, who have no problem with “Redmen,” but the official position of tribal groups cannot be overlooked, regardless of a few divergent opinions.
As the meeting progressed it became apparent that the keep crowd was being steamrolled by the change folks and that the board would likely rule in favor of a new nickname, if a decision were to be made at that meeting.
Again, I was surprised there wasn’t more of an organized appeal to keep things as they are. If activity on social media is any indication, it appeared there was going to be a strong show of support for the traditional nicknames. But where were they? Going into the meeting I had the feeling that if enough people showed up to oppose the change, regardless of their reasoning, they could win.
In fact, the final vote of board members was 4 to 3 in favor of change. Could a more passionate presentation by the keep crowd have been enough to flip one vote in their favor? It was certainly possible, but it wasn’t to be.
What does the board have to say?
When it came time for board member comments, each was able to share their views and explain their position, without the constraints of the 5-minute limit. Board Vice-President Glenn Sarka, who last month moved to have the issue put back on the board’s agenda, led off with a lengthy explanation of why he intended to support the motion for change. His remarks were all-encompassing, as he went point by point covering just about everything relevant to the issue, as well as the responsibility of the board to create a positive learning environment for every student in the MAPS district.
Of the three who ended up voting to keep the nickname, only Jim Hewitt, an eight-year veteran of the board, outlined his primary reason, that being to avoid more community strife, and an anticipated recall effort of those who support the change. Certainly most citizens would like to see this episode come to a peaceful end, one way or another. And we can appreciate Hewitt’s desire for reconciliation, but that’s just something else to take into consideration. A “data point,” as those factors were being called. There might be more legitimate reasons to oppose the change other than to simply ward off potential conflict.
Jason Zdunek suggested a vote be taken at a later date, giving those charged with making the decision more time to delve into the research and gauge public opinion. That was met with the night’s only protestations from the well-behaved crowd. This issue has been on the table since the last century. What more do we need to know?
Board President Kristen Cambensy voted no, without comment. She was the last to vote, but by that time the decision was a fait accompli.
It’s notable that Sarka made it a point to thank Cambensy for her mettle a month earlier when she voted to include the issue on the next meeting’s agenda, even though that may not have been her personal preference at the time.
The meeting, with two intermissions, was long, and heavy on redundancies, among both the speakers and the board members. But this was not a night for brevity. It was important for the board to show their understanding, in depth, of the impact of their decision. I think they did that.
Even though it wasn’t mentioned at the meeting, they now have to start the process of replacing Redmen and Redettes. The sooner the better. Done right, it could offer the opportunity for some enlivened community engagement. Keyword… could.
Will the keepers follow through on their threats of recall? Apparently it happened twenty-some years ago in a very similar scenario. However, the turnout they mustered for the board meeting doesn’t bode well for the heavy lifting of a recall. We’ll see. Maybe they’re ready to move on. That wouldn’t be the worst thing.