By Morgan Taylor, Reporter
TULSA, Oklahoma –Tulsa area community members are getting involved in a team mascot debate that hits close to home.
Union Public Schools (UPS) is a large school with 19 sites located in Tulsa and southeast Broken Arrow. For many years, the mascot of UPS was the ‘Redskins’. This was represented by an image of a Native American in a head dress.
An issue for some for many years the mascot has been seen as racist toward the Native American culture. With the recent changing of the mascot from the Washington NFL team, the Union School Board recognized the need to re-evaluate their own mascot.
In a meeting held on July 13, the UPS Board of Education met with this item on the agenda. It was decided that a board of 35 people would be formed for the single purpose of deciding if UPS would continue to use the mascot.
After spending many hours of research and delegation, on Nov. 9 another meeting was held where the use of their current logo and mascot would be erased. Now begins the process on what the next steps will be in choosing a new mascot.
Concerned citizen and employee of MCN Julian Watson hopes to see the Mvskoke language incorporated into the decision of the new mascot. Watson was pledged as a Goodwill Ambassador by former Principal Chief A.D. Ellis, an unpaid position.
“We could have the students pick an animal or element and have that be the mascot,” Watson said. “We could use traditional language to you know, educate people. I haven’t ever heard of a school that went about educating on that level.”
Since UPS is located on the Muscogee (Creek) Reservation, Watson believes it should incorporate the Muscogee language.
“Because of where we are geographically and jurisdictionally, I would like to lean towards a Creek word,” Watson said. “Like anytime I’ve ever gone to a reservation whether it be South Dakota, Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, even Canada and on and on; local folks would say ‘You’re here on our Rez so you’re going to speak our language and were going to teach you something today,” Watson said.
Watson reiterates, “Since the opportunity has presented itself, let’s use it to educate people.”
According to the UPS Chief Communications Officer Chris Payne, there are many things to consider in the upcoming changes.
“The board was very clear from the beginning that we were going to make this a two-step process,” Payne said. “They really did want input from the committee whether to keep the name or get rid of it and then we would revisit it in the event it was decided to get rid of it, which they did do.”
The next step of the process has yet to be discussed but Payne expects it to be something for the year 2021.
“We are going to take some time for this decision,” Payne said. “Union has a strong name on its own, and there has been thought of moving forward just as Union with no mascot at all, but I think we will want to have a mascot.”
Currently, one of the main focuses of UPS is the existing structures, artifacts, and logos already in place in the buildings.
“For example, in our high school we have a tile floor that has the word ‘Redskin’ on it,” Payne said. “We are questioning if we will be removing things like that. There are other things like artworks and things that aren’t ‘Redskin’ related sprinkled throughout the buildings.”
UPS does not intend to get rid of everything that resembles Native Americans.
“It’s not about cleansing or to get rid of Native American culture at all,” Payne said. “We are hoping to get tribal representatives to help assist in those decisions on things were not sure of. We do want to be respectful and for us that’s been a really big consideration on this.”
Although some have found offense to the name, some have not.
“Many alumni that are Native American have said they do not find the mascot offensive, but then there are many who have,” Payne said. “If even one person feels offended then that’s divisive and that’s not something Union should be.”
The overall goal has always been to be sensitive and respectful for all tribes according to Payne.
“We are taught to show honor to Native American heritage because that’s such a strong presence in our state,” Payne said. “I think that’s been our honest feelings about it. Regardless, we are friends to the tribes and we just want to be respectful. That does not mean everything Native American has to go away.”
As far as the decision making for the mascot, Payne said another committee will be formed along with input from students.
“We want people involved in this decision,” Payne said. “We have got a lot to think about. We don’t want do anything that’s going to cause disrespect. We are just starting down this road. I would love to find other meaningful ways to engage with the Native American heritage.”
Concerned community members are welcome to email input, ideas, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org