Turners Falls High School Drops Native Themed Mascot
It has been just over one week since our victory…
Months ago, my throat went dry when I heard about the meetings that were going to be held to discuss the potential of a Mascot change for Turners Falls High School. Now, I am a historian, but only when it comes to my ancestors. For a little over 5 years, I have been researching King Phillip’s War and attempting to trace the steps that my ancestors could have taken. Where did they come from? Who were there? As a Nipmuc from the Vickers line, I know that I descend from James Printer, but I wonder what more there could be. What untold stories are there? So, I connected fairly deeply with the history of Turners Falls and the fact that there should not be a mascot there by the name of the “Indians”.
Heart racing, I stepped into the auditorium of the Turners Falls High School on February 14th, 2017. I had people with me for support, but I was still nervous. With a speech prepared, I hoped it would not be just another drop in the well not heard. I was hopeful that my speech would make some sort of impact. I proceeded to stare at the panel of the school committee members, and then maybe they might see me.
Just maybe they could see the pain that my ancestors went through. The people of the Nipmuc tribe who were slaughtered needlessly during a peaceful ceremony at the end of King Phillip’s War by Turner himself. I sincerely hoped that they would see that they were in the wrong.
When the time came to speak, I have to admit that I was shaking. I was the first person to speak to the council. Then I was told that my 2-minute speech that I had worked on for nearly 2 weeks, had to be condensed to 1 minute.
I looked out into the sea of faces. People who wanted to keep their mascot and continue to dishonor my ancestors. People who wanted to continue to teach their children that it was okay to appropriate Native American traditions, and to mock us. People who thought that it was okay to claim a percentage of our native heritage in defense of this disgraceful mascot. I swallowed dryly at the row of cheerleaders with blue and white outfits on that screamed “TURNERS FALLS INDIANS”.
I then proceeded with my speech..“Roses are red, violets are blue, and what would you do if the mascot was you?” The line felt a little silly, but hey. It was Valentine’s Day, and I felt like being a little playful. “Now, I know that you don’t think about it that way,” I assured them. “You think that you are ‘honoring’ my people- native people- by calling yourselves the ‘Indians’, but I assure you that you are not.”
I had watched them debate for months over this, always falling back on that idea. So, I recapped the history of Turners for them. Informing them that I was Nipmuc and that these were the ancestors of my people that they felt so entitled to force this “honor” upon. “You asked for locals who are affected by this,” I said, my voice shaking. “Hi. Happy Valentine’s Day.” A bitter smile formed on my lips. “So,” I began. “Why you? Why Turners Falls, and your Mascot?” I swallowed against my nerves. The man beside me pushed at my shoulder a little and told me to wrap it up, I was over my time, but I stood my ground.
This was important to me. I felt that maybe, maybe if I could get through to the people in the audience and the school board. MAYBE, I could help my ancestors find a little peace. That was what drove me to my next portion of my speech, despite the time restraint and the man pushing me away from the mic.
A couple of months ago, a newspaper headline popped up in my Facebook feed.” I rushed through the words. ““Town Braces for Indian Attack” schoolboy football. Your team.” I reminded them. These were very real headlines. Headlines that hurt to see. “Indians Invade South Deerfield Tonight” schoolboy football. Your team.” The man began to push me away from the mic, telling me that my time was up. “You do not honor my people!” I said, searching the audience for understanding, for compassion. People in blue stared blankly back at me. My heart was racing. The man ripped my mic away as I attempted to push forward. They had to understand. They had to know what was happening. How it was affecting people. My heart
The man began to push me away from the mic, telling me that my time was up. “You do not honor my people!” I said, searching the audience for understanding, and compassion. People in blue stared blankly back at me. My heart was racing. The man ripped my mic away as I attempted to push forward. They had to understand. They had to know what was happening. How this was affecting people. My heart ached as I pushed forward. “You openly mock us!” My last words were spoken into the open air. With no mic to assist me, I made sure that the volume of my voice cut through the room.
I am a theater person, and I have no issues projecting. Those words echoed around me. I took a breath that was all too short and went to sit back down. It was over just like that. I didn’t even know if they heard me.
Over a dozen other people spoke after me, the meeting was held with the school committee, the superintendent gave a beautiful speech, and they decided to take their vote. There was no drum-roll, but goodness did it feel like there was one. Finally, they voted 6-3 to change the mascot. I cried. The natives and allies that had come and were gathered on the right side of the auditorium stood and clapped and I followed suit.
One small victory….
We sat back down.
“I hope that you’ll stay and help us heal”, A blond lady said harshly looking at me. I nodded at her to show support. I had been taking notes throughout the committee’s meeting of the things they needed and ideas that might help. I had every intent on helping, and doing what I could to move the school to a better and more educated place.
“I don’t believe you.” The older man behind me said, shaking his head and looking at me as if I had ruined the entire culture of his people or something. “That was a very nice performance”, He said. “But I don’t believe you, and I’m insulted that I can’t.” He didn’t believe that I was truly a Nipmuc native? I couldn’t help but smile at him through my tears of victory.
“That’s okay.” I laughed a little. I didn’t need his approval. “I’m documented, so, you can think whatever you want.” It was true. He could choose not to believe me. But honestly, I’ve been going to powwows since I was a child. My Native name given to me by my tribal elders, I’ve been registered in my schools, and I had a CARD. The list goes on! I’m Nipmuc. No one can take that away from me.
The next day a man decided to take me on with his trash website that I won’t even name.
Don’t worry about it. You’re not missing much. He’s attacked plenty of people, but golly gee! He picked me out as the face of the mascot change! Boy oh boy! 5 months of meetings, and I was only able to make it to the very last one, and I get picked out by him? I must’ve done something right. Needless to say, I was amused when my cousin tagged me on Facebook wondering if I had seen the post or not. I hadn’t but….
This man had picked out pictures of me as Princess Anna and Cinderella, attempting to peg me as a WHITE CHICK! I’m a cosplayer. Huge surprise. I’m a big nerd who is super into anime, manga, video games, superhero movies…. Etc… Right? So I he picked those pictures out to use them against me? Gosh, you’ve got me. Boy oh boy! You can see the French and Irish in me! I’m part white! You know…….. Depending on which family member you ask. 😉
Still, this man had stalked my Facebook! This man had even taken a screenshot of my Facebook profile “about” section to attempt to call me out (A clear invitation that people took to harass me). One problem… My Facebook is full of false information there! I purposefully put silly things down such as the idea that I lived in Boston and worked for Broadway. Etc… Hopes! But, false. Still, he tried to call me out. He tried to make me feel weak. Discredit me.
Well, I am Nipmuc. That is who I am, who I always have been, and that is who I always WILL be. I will continue to do everything that I can to ensure the betterment of my people. I will work hard no matter what. I will make sure that my people are safe and that our ancestors are honored. I will not be beaten down by petty people. I will not let children go on being misinformed. I will continue to push forward.
To the native youth out there…
Fight for your ancestors, the ones who cannot fight any longer.
Fight for your family.
Fight for strangers in tribes that you do not know.
Fight for the future of your people.
Sometimes, things will be hard. People will be cruel. People will attempt to erase you and will tell you that you do not exist. You might begin to think that you don’t “count”, but let me tell you this.
No matter where you are, you are more important than you can even imagine. You are the descendants of the people who survived genocide. So, honor that. Do what you can to make sure that Native mascots are abolished. Do what you can to protect this land. Stop the pipeline. Divest from banks and sign up for credit unions instead. Go to Standing Rock and fight.
Know who you are, and refuse to back down.
Even when it gets painful.
It’s your turn.
It’s our turn.
I will stand with you, and together we will win.
Please, if you ever feel attacked or feel as if you are losing hope, find me and contact me.
It’s our turn.