WEST CALDWELL, NJ — Board of Education President Marie Lanfrank during her report announced that the “Chiefs” logo will remain as it is.
Mayor John Kelley and members of the town council attended the board of education’s Zoom meeting July 18 and requested the board consider changing the long-standing mascot and logo stating that they found the references “offensive and insensitive.”
Kelley’s statement in part began by asserting that “we are in the midst of the largest civil rights movement in history, and it is a critical moment of reflection and action as a borough. We need to re-examine our role in perpetuating systemic racism. Statues, flags, symbols, and mascots hold power in celebrating and memorializing truth, justice, and equity. Unfortunately the Caldwell Chief’s name and mascot do not uphold any of these tenets rather the mascot dehumanizes indigenous people and reduces them to caricatures and costume … I have received testimonies from residents of indigenous descent who feel that the Chiefs’ mascot does not celebrate their history. It is offensive and insensitive to the atrocities that indigenous people have faced and continue to face in our nation. I wholeheartedly agree with these residents’ sentiment and I want to ensure that Caldwell is a place of inclusivity and safety for all people.”
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During that meeting Dan Romano, the school district’s athletic director and a 62-year resident of the borough, was in attendance and spoke on the topic. He began by noting, “I really welcome the opportunity to talk about this because the last thing we want to be as a town and as a school district is insensitive and that is nowhere close to where we’re at.” Romano then went on to discuss the history of the “Chiefs” stating it had “little or nothing to do with Native Americans.” Romano explained that Harris “Chief” Bonnel was the Athletic Director for the district from 1934-1975, inducted into Caldwell Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990 and most recently had a plaque honoring him installed at Legends Park at the Bonnel Field in September 2019, was the inspiration for the mascot name.
Lanfrank stated that after discussion amongst themselves, it was determined that the references to the “Chiefs” honor a well respected former athletic director Harris “Chief” Bonnel. Lanfrank stated that “the board of education has discussed this and decided to uphold the Chiefs name and logo as it currently stands.”
When a caller asked why not keep the name and change the logo, the president responded that “we don’t feel that the logo is detrimental to anyone and basically it came about as an honor to Chief Bonnel. It was bestowed upon him by an Indian chief.” Lanfrank continued and referenced a study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union in California stating that it was “very flawed because they filled (gave) the Indian children with what responses they should give.”
Resident Liz Hart questioned the process, if it was a decision subject to a vote and inquired if the decision was made solely by the members of the board or discussed amongst the broader community and further questioned if the issue can still be “up for discussion.” Lanfrank confirmed that a board vote was not required, and the matter has been decided.
Board Vice-President Dan Cipoletti said, “We had a discussion on this and have discussed this and based on the origin of how the chief logo as well as how the name was instituted we do not believe that this is something to be changed at this time. In addition, there are obviously other things which are much more important in our view that we need to deal with and therefore this is not being addressed as we speak.”