TULSA, Okla. (AP) — An Oklahoma school board decided to appoint a committee that would reevaluate the district’s Redskins mascot amid conversations about removing controversial names and images across the country.
Union Public Schools board members voted unanimously Monday to form the panel, a move that comes seventeen years after previous boards had voted unanimously to keep the mascot. Critics say the term and image of the mascot are racist because they historically referred to the scalp of a slain Native American sold for bounty.
The committee, which will be announced next month, will include advisers from the Creek and Cherokee nations along with students, faculty and alumni. They plan to make a recommendation by December.
Superintendent Kirk Hartzler told the Tulsa World that he would like to see the mascot changed, but the committee could decide to support keeping it.
“In a democracy,” he said, “each generation has to make its own decision.”
About 5% of Union’s 15,816 students are Native American and Alaska Native as of October 2019, according to the district’s website. Union’s district includes portions of Tulsa and the adjacent suburb of Broken Arrow.
Tulsa’s population of nearly 4 million people is 9.4% American Indian and Alaska Native, last year’s census data shows.
The vote coincidentally happened on the same day that Washington D.C.’s NFL team dropped “Redskins” as its name and mascot, school district officials said. Native American advocates and experts have long criticized the name they call a “dictionary-defined racial slur.”
Ken Kinnear, a board member, said the mascot was never intended to offend Native Americans when it was chosen in 1945.
Michael Hamilton, who was the only person to speak against the mascot change during Monday’s vote, said changing the mascot will “offend tens of thousands of people who take pride in the name.”
Hamilton watched his father defend the name before in 2003, where many others approved of the decision to keep the mascot, saying the term represented a positive figure.
Meanwhile, protesters in support of changing the mascot gathered outside before the board meeting to express their concerns.
“We’re living in a teachable moment,” said one protester. “If there was ever a time to make a change and teach children that racism is not OK, this is it.”
National discussions about removing racist symbols began after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, a Black man, died after a white officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes in Minneapolis. His death sparked protests worldwide against racial injustice and police brutality.