Envisioning progress, Picturing a MSHS future with a more inclusive name

^Redhawks concept created to entice a new vision; a call for creativity, suggestions to think beyond the Redmen name and compromise: Create a student-lead transition team to gather community suggestions for a new culturally appropriate name and mascot. Include Indigenous representation, finalized as subjected to permission and blessings from local tribal leadership.

Dear MSHS School Board President and Honorable Trustees,

I am a non-Native 2003 alumus of Marquette Senior High School, a former dual sport athlete and a 30 year citizen of Marquette. Before that my family lived on a Diné Reservation in Navajo Nation for four years. Cultural competency was embedded in me very early. Today, I am a capstone-level student in Native American Studies and Public Relations. I am honored that of my mentors and elders are Native and I have various promotional and advocacy roles in the local Native community.

The visceral conversations across my beloved city over our high school nicknames ‘Redmen and Redette’ are heartbreaking. All through Marquette people are ostracized for standing up for what they believe is just, causing inevitable division.

Would we have these vitriol-filled debates over an inclusive name?

In one of the most robust scientific surveys ever taken among Native Americans, 67% with close connection to their culture found Native themed monikers “deeply insulting.” 

Indigenous reclamation and revitalization away from culturally harmful monikers is not victimization, it’s empowerment.

This isn’t about sensibilities. Some may see red, but the only attribute I’ve come to learn about Native American skin is that it’s incredibly thick. To endure the historical traumas placed upon them, it has it be. This debate is about whether the name Redmen is educationally harmful, if it takes Indigenous students away from positively honoring a stolen culture. The evidence is overwhelming. Numerous studies empirically suggest it negatively impacts Indigenous identity.

Intentional or not, words matter. Language is the heartbeat of our relationships. When we misuse our words, we dishonor those relationships. For decades, we have been aware of the negative impact of derogatory terms that describe a race. To say the word Redmen has nothing to do with Native Americans is tactful, but it’s intentionally naïve.

The fight against it in Marquette has been ongoing for over 30 years, and nationally since 1972. If you do not think Indigenous people have been using their voices, it’s not because those voices don’t exist, it’s because we haven’t been listening. Today, resurgence and revitalization in Native communities have empowered Indigenous people and their allies to speak up in unison.

You are elected to be representative of your constituency, and equally important, you are elected to lead. So, when a [perceived] majority vilifies those who care about marginalized students, when we’re threatened politically, which values do we abandon to be representative? Your greatest charge is to enhance and protect the educational experience for all students. Beyond that, this is all political. 

Knee jerk public opinion should never be an indicator of whether or not we practice equity and inclusion for a minority group. 

Progress requires difficult but necessary change. I love Marquette so deeply because we are not cowardice. We are not complacent. We are inclusive. I don’t know why we’re failing one of the strongest minority groups in our community, but I know we have the profound ability to be better.

I’ve heard a call for compromise. I pray for unity, but what does compromise look like? If you do not change the name, and only introduce curriculum about a true Native American history—a history of genocide, biological warfare, slavery, land theft, treaty coercion, forced relocation, forced assimilation, institutionalized decimation of culture, language, and identity, boarding school abuse, systemic poverty, and contemporary oppression—if we taught this as early as we teach Civil Rights, our children would grow knowing why the name on their jerseys is so problematic and understand its retirement is just.

The intent of the name is not to harm. Honoring a red sweater is uninspiring but it’s not racism. Yet, for nearly 100 years, we have not been doing that. We need to face the reality that we all live with the sins of the past, and that we have endorsed an impermissible definition of the word with stereotypical imagery. Because of it, these words have consequences and alternative meanings. Intention is lost. We cannot go backwards. If the next steps require a compromise of Indigenous integrity, none of us move forward.

This generation inherits a century of socially-accepted versions of institutionalized oppression, but every passing moment today is another chance to turn it all around. When we know better, we do better, and it’s now time to be better for all students and answer the call for a total upgraded rebrand.

Which values must we abandon for compromise? Where does our compassion end? Does it end at preserving school tradition? Do principles end at popularity? Does cultural competency dim when the Friday Night Lights turn on? Does justice end at our re-elections?

Please have the courage to stand up for justice. Be leaders. Help us practice equity and inclusion.  

You have the evidence. The APA, the NCAA, the NAHF, the NCAI, every single tribe in the Great Lakes, the committee you appointed, past and present Native students and their allies — we are politely and respectfully pleading with you. Let’s move on from this visceral 30 year debate. It’s time to create a student lead transition committee and begin accepting suggestions for a new moniker and mascot for MSHS. Lead us fearlessly to a future of unity and progress.

Humbly yours,

Citizen Lorinser