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Utah school becomes latest to drop Native American name

SALT LAKE CITY — Sports teams will no longer be known as the “Redmen” at a southern Utah high school, becoming the latest to get rid of a Native American name deemed offensive despite opposition from some residents and a national American Indian group.

The Iron County School Board voted 3-2 Tuesday night to approve a recommendation from a committee that concluded Cedar High School should stop using the term that critics consider a racial slur.

School board President Stephen Allen said Wednesday that deciding to change a name used since the 1940s was difficult but correct. Native American students who account for 6 percent of the high school’s population reported being bullied over the name and feeling shame and embarrassment, Allen said.

“We know that much of the world would consider the term ‘Redmen’ a racial slur and derogatory, even though local citizens do not intend it that way,” Allen said.

The nickname came under scrutiny in 2016 when a video showed a drill team wearing black braided wigs for a Native American-themed dance at the high school in Cedar City, a community of about 30,000 people about 250 miles (401 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City.

The nearby Paiute Indian Tribe was glad the committee studied the issue but didn’t ask for a name change, Allen said. One of the five bands that make up the tribe, the Kanosh Band, advocated for the change.

The national group Native American Guardians Association traveled to Utah to push for keeping the name, which it considers a way to preserve Native American history, co-founder Eunice Davidson said. Other national groups call the names racist and urge changes.

School board member Dale Brinkerhoff spoke against the move, suggesting that outside groups were trying to tell locals they should be offended, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

“If you don’t like our peaches, get the hell out of our tree,” Brinkerhoff said, drawing cheers.

It comes after the Cleveland Indians stopped using a contentious, cartoonish mascot called Chief Wahoo on the MLB team’s caps and jersey sleeves last year. A school district in South Dakota also decided to phase out a Redmen mascot last year.

Nearly two-thirds of some 2,000 Indian references in sports have been eliminated in the last three decades, according to research by the National Congress of American Indians, which considers the names derogatory.

Among the changed names: Savages to Blue Hawks at Dickson State University, Indians to Big Green at Dartmouth College, and Warriors to Golden Eagles at Marquette University.

But nearly 1,000 remain, including several professional sports teams with huge fan bases: the NFL’s Washington Redskins, the MLB’s Atlanta Braves and the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks.

The Utah school board’s decision is a huge victory, said Amanda Blackhorse, a longtime activist against the use of Native images for mascots and logos.

“Anytime that you use a race-based mascot for living people, it makes it a racial slur,” Blackhorse said. “It dehumanizes Native people and promotes stereotypes and allows our identity to be laughed at and mocked.”

Davidson of the North Dakota-based Native American Guardians Association said her ancestors called themselves “Redmen” and “Redskins” and that it was never derogatory. Her group formed in 2014 to advocate for keeping such names.

She noted that the Utes are known because of the University of Utah and the Seminoles because of Florida State University.

“We are the first peoples of this nation. We don’t want people to forget who we are,” Davidson, a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota. “There’s too much at stake to lose from my people if they get rid of all these names and images.”

Blackhorse called the group misguided and said it doesn’t have much support among Native Americans. Davidson said they have 5,000 Native American members and 50,000 total supporters.

Allen said he agreed with much of what Davidson said but still thought a name change was best. A committee will be formed to choose a new team name for next school year.

“I think that there is a way to honor, remember and educate our students and community about our Native American heritage without having anything that is considered disrespectful,” Allen said.

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