Feds toss Michigan complaint to ban Indian mascots
LANSING – A federal agency has dismissed a complaint seeking to ban the use of American Indian mascots and imagery in Michigan’s K-12 schools, saying a state department cited no specific cases of harm to students in 35 districts.
The state Department of Civil Rights, which received notice of the ruling Friday, said Monday it was disappointed and was considering whether to appeal or take other action. The agency takes issue with schools with mascots or nicknames such as the Redskins, Chiefs, Warriors, Indians and Big Reds.
In denying the complaint, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights said empirical evidence is not enough and more details are needed before it can find that a “racially hostile environment” exists.
“You did not provide … any specific examples of race-based incidents nor identify any students or individuals who have suffered specific harm because of the alleged discrimination at any of the named school districts,” Catherine Criswell, director of Office for Civil Rights’ Cleveland branch, wrote the state civil rights agency in a letter dated last Wednesday.
After filing the complaint in February, the department encountered criticism from Republican lawmakers who said it acted with no input from communities and argued the issue should be resolved locally without federal interference. Legislation was introduced last month to make the state civil rights agency cover schools’ expenses for changing mascots had the federal complaint succeeded.
“MDCR believes the evidence is clear that students are being hurt by the continued used of American Indian mascots and imagery. We will continue to look for ways to ensure all students are equally protected,” the department said in a statement.
In its complaint, the state said American Indian imagery should belong to American Indians.
“Students in an American school who call themselves ‘Redskins,’ dress up like Indians, cheer using war chants, or wear uniforms emblazoned with cartoon Indians may not intend to disavow history, but it certainly suggests they don’t know much about the Dawes Act, or the Indian Removal Act, or the Trail of Tears, or Wounded Knee, or Indian boarding schools,” said the complaint, which affected 35 of roughly 550 districts statewide.
Recently, the NFL’s Washington Redskins name has faced a new barrage of criticism for being offensive.
An Associated Press-GfK poll shows that nationally, “Redskins” still enjoys wide support.
Nearly four in five Americans do not think the team should change its name, the survey found. Only 11 percent think it should be changed, while 8 percent were not sure and 2 percent did not answer.