Massachusetts lawmakers debate bill that would ban Native American mascots in schools

Lawmakers debated the bill in a public hearing on Tuesday.

ByABC News
June 7, 2017, 5:26 PM

— -- During a public hearing on Tuesday, Massachusetts lawmakers debated a bill that would ban the use of Native American mascots in public schools.

The bill, which was filed by State Sen. Barbara A. L'Italien, seeks to "prohibit the use of Native American mascots by public schools in the Commonwealth," and comes after the town of Tewksbury refused to change the name of its high school mascot, the Redmen.

The bill defines the issue as "a name, symbol, or image that depicts or refers to an American Indian tribe, individual, custom, or tradition that is used by a public school as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead, or team name."

The bill also outlines a list of banned team names, including "Redskins," "Savages," "Indians," "Indianettes," "Chiefs," "Chieftains," "Braves," and "Redmen."

According to the New England Mascot Coalition, 41 schools in Massachusetts use Native American mascots, nicknames and logos.

A Tunica-Biloxi tribe member originally from Louisiana told ABC affiliate WCVB that imagery like the Tewksbury logo is racist and offensive to Native Americans' identity.

"They minimize our culture and our contributions," the unnamed resident told WCVB.

Linda Thomas, another local resident, told WCVB: "We'd like to see names in Massachusetts that are not discriminatory."

WCVB reported that State Rep. James Miceli, who represents Tewksbury, was among those urging lawmakers to reject the bill, saying that people in the town overwhelmingly support sticking with the Redmen name.

The Massachusetts bill follows similar ones in states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, who, according to WCVB, already ban Native American mascots in school districts. In Oregon, school districts have been asked to do away with tribal mascots by July 1, unless the schools secure approval from the tribe.

The use of Native American mascots is also being discussed in the realm of professional sports, with the NFL's Washington Redskins and the MLB's Cleveland Indians facing criticism for their team names and logos.

In 2014, the U.S. Patent and Trademark office declined to register several trademarks for the Redskins, citing federal regulations against protecting words and images that are disparaging or offensive. The team, however, argued that the rule violated the First Amendment.

Residents of Massachusetts are still waiting for a decision to be made as a verdict was not finalized in Tuesday's hearing.