A vocal group of students and parents is pushing for the Keller Independent School District to change the mascot from the Indians, saying the mascot is racist toward Native Americans. Earlier this summer, students started a petition, which now has more than 29,000 signatures, to get rid of the mascot. In July, they spoke at a virtual Keller ISD Board of Trustees meeting, advocating for a change. Amid questions surrounding school opening in the fall, they don’t want this issue to fall to the wayside.
“With George Floyd’s murder and a lot of sports teams changing their names … I think this is definitely a moment, and you have to capitalize on these moments of change,” said Meredith Plunkett, a parent within the Keller ISD.
A culture of appropriation
Ashni Shah is a senior at Keller High School and has attended school in the district all her life. She’s also Indian – as in, of south Asian descent.
That was confusing for a lot of people growing up, considering the school’s mascot.
“As a kid, I would get questions: ‘Are you a red dot Indian or a feather Indian?’” she said.
Because of this, Ashni said she’s always been on the fence about the mascot. When she saw that a group of students was lobbying for its change, she joined in.
Mackenzie Kang, a rising sophomore at Keller High School, is another student who wants to see the mascot change. As a student of Asian descent who has faced incidents of racism at the school, she said a mascot that is culturally appropriative of an entire group of people is a symptom of an environment of bigotry in the school district.
“I think it’s the idea of racism and how it’s not taught the way it should be,” Mackenzie said. “It creates a precedent of racism. I don’t believe it’s a direct cause – it’s a correlation more than anything else.”
The mindset behind the people who want to keep the mascot is also telling, she said. The people who defend the mascot say things like, “it’s my mascot” and “the Indian is mine.” They feel possessive of the identity, and that, Mackenzie said, is what makes it even worse.
“It’s that ownership of a culture that has definitely spread,” she said. “The ownership of a culture … that’s definitely a cause for the harm done to minorities at Keller.”
Not a new fight
For some of the students, this is a new fight. But for some parents and others, this is not new at all.
In 2017, the Society of Native Nations, a nonprofit organization of Native American people in Texas, started a petition on change.org to persuade the Keller ISD Board of Trustees to change the mascot.
“Many school officials claim they are honoring American Indians and insist that their school’s sponsored activities are not offensive,” the original petition reads. “We argue otherwise, and contend that these racist activities are forms of cultural violence in schools.”
Arthur Red Cloud is a member of the Society of Native Nations and lives in North Lake. He said he’s been fighting the Keller ISD for years now over this, only to be met with obfuscation and delays.
“They want us to forget – they want us to not think about it,” he said. “They’re taking a lot from us, even though they think they aren’t. All they want is our culture; they don’t want our struggles.”
Mark Madrid and his family have been part of the fight, too, ever since he moved to Keller four years ago. He and his family are part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma, and his daughter, Sara Madrid, attends Keller Central High School. Though Central has a different mascot, the Madrids have still had to contend with the racism of the Keller Indians mascot.
“I’ve been to the board many a time … and told them, why don’t you paint your face black and put an afro wig on?” Madrid said. “They say, ‘We can’t do that.’ Well, what’s the difference?”
He points to the appropriative imagery. Many wear face paint or headdresses. The school’s dance team is called the Indianettes, and they wear uniforms that are meant to look like traditional native clothing. Madrid says none of that belongs to the people who wear it.
“Those are our soldiers. That’s stolen valor,” he said of the face paint. “They spit in our face and say it’s our culture, not your culture.”
Still facing pushback
In the renewed fight for change, some trustees are turning to new arguments to defend the mascot.
Trustee Brad Schofield said in an email to people advocating for change that removing the Indians is equivalent to the Third Reich’s removal of Jewish culture in the Holocaust.
“I remember that the Nazis in the 1930s decided to rid their society of everything Jewish,” Schofield wrote. “All emblems, pictures, books, names, and all other reflection of the Jewish tradition had to be removed from public view and destroyed. Hearing the cry of some that all things ‘Indianish’ have to be destroyed brings those memories and stories to mind, which saw millions of Jews die under Nazi rule. I will have NO part in destroying all things related to native Americans.”
Mackenzie characterized his response as “immature” and “willful ignorance.”
“It should go with go without saying you shouldn’t call your students Nazis,” she said. “It’s also a textbook example of a weak analogy fallacy.”
In response to the new, student-led petition, defenders of the mascot started their own petition that has more than 3,000 signatures.
Most of the pushback comes from people who insist the mascot is a way of honoring Native American people and is therefore not racist. But Ashni points out that’s not true, nor is it honorable.
“A mascot is very important to a school – it’s part of the school’s identity,” she said. “But if a school’s identity is racist, why is that important to you? If it’s harmful to a group of people, why would you want to keep doing it?”
Seizing a moment
The students pushing to change the school’s mascot are hopeful that this will be the moment that pushes it over the edge. And even some parents who have been fighting for a long time also think now, when the entire country is sitting down and having difficult discussions about race, is the prime moment.
Plunkett first moved to Keller from Florida in 2017. She said she and her husband chose the city because they heard about the great schools, but when they drove around and saw the Keller High School “Home of the Indians” sign, she said her heart sank.
“I was really appalled because it kind of lets you know something about a town,” she said. “It lets you know what their priorities are.”
Since then, she’s been fighting the mascot, and she thinks this year might be when change might finally happen. She also thinks it represents an excellent opportunity for community building.
“What if they made it a contest, and students and alumni teamed up?” She said. “There’s an amazing opportunity to right some wrongs and foster community spirit.”