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Andersen: If mascot names insult group, then change them

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LAKE HALLIE -- Thanksgiving is past; with the celebration came thoughts of the Pilgrims and the Indians sitting down and sharing a meal together to celebrate the harvest in the year of 1621 at Plymouth, Mass.

The festival lasted about three days. That must have been a pretty good party. It was probably the last time we had any meaningful discussions with Native Americans.

When I was a boy, I visited the Winnebago Indian School in Neillsville with my church group. The school was established in 1920 and ran until the late 1950s. It was a boarding school for Winnebago Indians, now known as the Ho-Chunk Nation.

The school was set up to give the Native American kids an education and perhaps get them started on a trade. The school is now the site of Sun Burst Youth Homes.

I graduated with several Native American kids. The one I remember most was Mitchell Red Cloud. I do not know if he was named after the famous Marine/ Army sergeant and Medal of Honor winner of World War II and Korea. He was a quiet kid and a gentle person with a nice laugh.

After high school I lost contact with him. While writing this article I learned that he had passed away several years ago. I worked with several of the nations when I was with the state.

This trip down memory lane is being brought to you by the Wisconsin Legislature. The thoughts of Mitchell Red Cloud and the Winnebago School came back when the Assembly and Senate passed the “Mascot Protection Act” for the Mukwonago School District. Osseo-Fairchild School also comes to mind. For another view of the world, also see “Washington Redskins."

I am no Native American scholar. I did not take any Native American history classes at the University of Wisconsin. I have read Evan Connell’s book, “Son of the Morning Star,” about the battle at the Little Bighorn, and I have read, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” At the National Fire Academy, I also met a firefighter from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

But I understand one simple fact: People have the right not to be insulted because of their heritage or national origin.

Oh, I know that a mascot should not be a big thing in our lives. I grew up with the Tigers as a high school mascot. To the south of my hometown lies Stevens Point Area High School (SPASH). There are a huge amount of Polish families in the area. Their school mascot is a Panther. They are not called the Fighting Pollacks.

My hometown has a lot of German people in it. We were not called the Fighting Krauts. But then this is a country that renamed french fries into freedom fries, even though we owe our collective butts to the French for helping us during the Revolutionary War.

As a Norwegian American who lives in Wisconsin, I am no fan of the Vikings football team. I remember my grandfather saying “One-thousand Swedes ran through the weeds with one Norwegian behind them.” I suffer through Ole and Lena jokes. In many ways it is all in good fun. But my history is much different than that of the Native Americans.

My daughter lives in Canada, where the native tribes are called “First Nation.” It is a title of honor. It seems that the Canadians and the British were able to work with the First Nation people where we could not.

Native Americans were driven from their land, starved and murdered by civilized white people. While we cannot undo the past wrongs, I think we can make up for it in some ways.

If the Native Americans believe that a mascot is offensive -- be it the Warriors, the Redskins or the Mukwonago Indians -- I think we owe it to them to change it.

I have found that the parents are often more invested in the mascot than the kids. After all it is just a mascot; no one knows what the heck a Blugold is. But in this day and age, nothing is safe from the Wisconsin Legislature.

John R. Andersen of Lake Hallie is a former state employee who remains active in the fields of fire prevention, government and education.

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