Athletes from Dartmouth High School compete in sports leagues as the Indians, a team name that some town officials are seeking to cast aside as they align the high school with sports teams across the country reconsidering language and imagery that’s offensive to Native Americans.
But the conversation in Dartmouth ground to a halt this summer after members of a local Wampanoag tribe weighed in.
“We do not wish to be erased from today’s contemporary life, society or social existence,” Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah, wrote in a letter this summer.
Another tribe member, Clyde Andrews, wrote in a separate letter that he personally designed the Dartmouth Indian logo in the 1970s while playing for the high school’s football team.
“The logo was designed to respect and honor the region’s indigenous people,” his letter said.
The letters were addressed to members of the Dartmouth School Committee, whose years-long discussion of the Indian logo went silent for several months afterwards.
But on Monday, the Dartmouth Select Board voted to re-open the question by sending a non-binding referendum to voters that will appear on the same ballot as townwide elections on April 5.
“Basically, the question is very simple,” Shawn McDonald, the board’s chairman, said. “Do you support keeping the Dartmouth Indian logo?”
The Dartmouth School Committee still has the final say over whether the town removes the Indian logo, but the referendum will be one of several forms of public input that town officials will hear this spring. A series of public forums has also been scheduled for March, including one for members of local tribes like the Aquinnah Wampanoag.
Shannon Jenkins, the school committee’s chairwoman, said at least two other tribes have expressed opposition to the Dartmouth Indian logo, including the nearby Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which is backing a bill in the state Legislature to ban the use of Native American mascots by public schools.
“Additionally, the Pocasset Wampanoag claim Dartmouth is part of their ancestral and territorial lands,” Jenkins said during Monday's school committee meeting. “I have had communication with council members of the Pocasset Wampanoag, and they are opposed to the use of the [word] Indian.”
Questions of which tribe’s concerns ought to prevail will not be easy to parse in Dartmouth, a town that has only about 50 residents of Native American descent, according to the latest U.S. Census.
This story was originally published by The Public's Radio. The Public’s Radio and WBUR have a partnership in which the news organizations share stories and resources