Published in the March 1, 2021 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — It was billed as a way for local residents to let the School Committee know how they feel about the Wakefield Warrior logo with its use of Native American imagery, and 22 people took advantage of the opportunity at last Thursday’s virtual forum conducted over Zoom. The forum was carried live by WCAT on its cable channels and on Facebook.
The School Committee is considering the logo issue after the Youth Council asked them to eliminate it last October.
The forum was moderated from the WCAT studio by Town Moderator Bill Carroll. Each speaker was given three minutes to share their views.
The first speaker was Alyssa Toppi of Greenwood Avenue, a Wakefield Memorial High School senior and a member of the Youth Council. She said that she shares in Warrior pride but insisted that the logo is not the only way to express it. She maintained that eliminating the logo was not an attempt to erase history but to “redress past wrongs.” She said that many indigenous people consider logos like the Warrior demeaning.
Nicole Calabrese of Friend Street said a national discussion of Native American sports logs has been going on for decades. She asserted that logos like Wakefield’s Warrior harm native students and they are asking for it to be changed. She claimed that such logos decrease self-worth among Native Americans and contribute to suicide rates higher that the national average.
Maria Muti of Hopkins Street said that she was speaking on behalf of the Wakefield Human Rights Commission, which she chairs. She maintained that multiple Indian tribes have called for the elimination of Native American imagery in sports logos because of the social and psychological harm they cause to native youth. She said that the Human Right Commission urges the School Committee to remove Native American imagery from sports logos.
Jennifer Boettcher of Wakefield Avenue is also a member of the Human Rights Commission but said that she was speaking for herself only. She said that Native American logos reinforce a negative stereotype. She said that showing school spirit “should not come at the expense of a nation that has asked us to stop” using the logos.
Will Thomson of Prospect Street said that school logos are part of belonging and he tried to imagine how he would feel if the private high school he attended tried to get rid of their logo. He said that tribes have said that logos like the Wakefield Warrior are offensive and have asked that they be changed.
Jack Dubow of Aborn Avenue chairs the Youth Council. He insisted that the logo perpetuates harmful stereotypes of native people and dehumanizes them. He cited a study from the American Psychological Association to support the claim that Native American imagery in logos harms native students and all students.
Youth Council Vice Chair Lauren Blois, a WMHS junior, called the Warrior logo “a conscious act of cultural appropriation” and insisted that school pride would not be diminished if the logo were to be changed. “As individuals and as a community we can do better and we must take action to do better,” she said.
Former School Committee member Anne Fortier of Greenwood Avenue applauded the Youth Council for their work. While the Warrior logo may be a symbol of pride and strength to some, she said, to others it is a one-dimensional, harmful stereotype. She said that traditions change and sometimes change happens because we realize that our own perspectives are not the ones that matter.
Dan Lieber of Elm Street said that he has Native American relatives and they see logos like the Warrior “as a mockery of themselves.” He asserted that the current logo is “not appropriate,” adding that his school aged daughter does not want to wear a sports uniform with the Warrior logo on it.
Elizabeth Daily-Ortega of Plymouth Road said that she was a parent of two students in the Wakefield Public Schools. She maintained that the Warrior logo “reinforces racist stereotypes and views.” She added that nostalgia was no excuse to keep an image that perpetuates stereotypes of marginalized people.
Nivea Waterman, an 8th grader at the Galvin Middle School, said that she supports keeping the Warrior logo. “I think the logo is a beautiful thing. I see someone who’s strong, kind-hearted and powerful.” She said that she couldn’t understand why this issue was so upsetting to people who are not Native American. She said that after a previous meeting where she spoke out publicly in support of the logo, school staff told her that she was not allowed to talk about it in school.
Benny Wheat of Meriam Street, another member of the Wakefield Human Rights Commission, said that no amount of school pride was worth harming youth. She claimed that the Warrior logo does not depict any specific culture and does not represent the tribes of this region. She maintained that the logo represents a history of “colonialism, cultural genocide and dehumanization.”
Peter Saul of Bennett Street said that national organizations of Native Americans have called logos depicting American Indians offensive and damaging. He said that in 2005 the American Psychological Association recommended the retirement of logos and mascots depicting native Americans.
Michelle Toppi of Greenwood Avenue maintained that no one was trying to take away the term “warrior.” She insisted that the town must listen to the students. She also decried the harsh tenor of the debate on social media and called for “respectful discussion” going forward.
Sophia Gosselin-Smoske, a 2020 WMHS graduate, said that Native Americans don’t want to be portrayed as mascots. “We should be listening to these people,” she said.
Sheila Eriksen of Converse Street said that she grew up in Wakefield and graduated from WMHS and was “firmly in favor of changing the mascot.” She read a statement from the National Congress of Native Americans related to the Washington Redskins name.
Michelle McNall of Park Street pointed out that, “We have a logo, not a mascot.” She called the logo part of the history of the town and a gift from a local Native American family (the Bayrds). “Eliminating it eliminates a part of them,” she said. She said that she supported the older, traditional Warrior logo and wondered who was going to pay to have the logo removed from fields, scoreboards, signs and other places where it appears, especially those that were paid for by private groups or individuals.
Christie McNall of Park Street also supported the Warrior logo. She claimed that the School Committee doesn’t think the opinions of WMHS alumni matter, but noted that today’s students will soon be alumni themselves. She maintained that Native American-owned casinos that promote gambling and drinking do more to harm the image of Native Americans than logos do. She also wondered if animal mascots should be eliminated since they are voiceless and can’t give consent.
Frances “Chickie” Taylor of Old Nahant Road wondered what critics of the Warrior logo were doing to honor and help Native people. “It’s not just words but actions that count,” she said. She added that in her view Native Americans were proud people who fought off the government and those trying to steal their land. She said that she also favored the older, traditional logo.
Rev. Elizabeth Assenza of Roslindale is pastor of the Wakefield Unitarian Universalist Church. She spoke in favor of changing the logo, saying that tribes have asked for the retirement of Native American mascots and logos. She said that it is time to let Wakefield students build new memories with a logo that meets their need and is not harmful to Native Americans.
Ami Wall of Elm Street said that she was a lifelong Wakefield resident and saw the logo as a representation of someone who is strong, fierce and kind. She said that she supported the older, traditional logo that she maintained was created with respect for Native Americans and honor for Wakefield’s history.
Sue Herz of Main Street said that she was a member of a local anti-racism group. She asserted that Native American men were not any more warrior-like than other ethnicities. She said that white settlers brought disease and systemic violence and death to Native Americans who lived here. She called the logo “degrading” and “damaging.”
Myra Sessions of Richardson Street praised the “incredible spirit of diversity and openness in our school system.” She said it was time to listen to students and Native American voices. “It’s time for this logo to go,” she said. “It’s time to have a logo that represents our values of diversity and inclusion.”