There are only two high schools in Berkshire County that still use terms for Native Americans as a moniker and/or logos.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Taconic High School may need a new mascot.
The state Legislature is currently debating a bill that would ban the use of names, symbols, or imagery referring to Native American tribes. The proposed law even specifically uses the term "braves" as being outlawed from use.
Taconic High School has long used the name Braves, with a mascot depicting an American Indian, but with a new school and a new law, school leaders are starting to question if the name should stay or go.
"Whether the law is enacted or not, it is certainly a conversation that in many ways, like most uncomfortable situations, has tremendous growth potential for us as a community just by simply talking about it," Superintendent Jason McCandless said.
Taconic is one of only about 40 high schools in the state still using Native American logos, and one of just two in the Berkshires. Over the years, many schools and colleges have switched to new logos because of concerns that those logos and mascots are derogatory to Native Americans.
State Sen. Barbara A. L'Italien, D-Andover, filed the petition (Bill S.291) at the request of constituents and it is currently in the Joint Committee on Education. Locally, Superintendent Jason McCandless said a recent graduate had written him earlier this year bringing up the issue, and suggesting the new building opening in 2018 as an opportunity to change the mascot.
"We heard it from many, many parts of our community. And, in fairness, we heard from as many members, if not more, of the community that in their opinion this is a very respectful and honoring depiction of a Native American individual," McCandless said. "The theme of Braves just pervades Taconic."
The School Committee has asked McCandless to look closer at the issue and get input from multiple groups from Native Americans to alumni to current students.
"No matter what we determine, one intent that is not present anywhere is to suggest that there is a purposefully, disrespectful use of anything related to the first people who lived on this land. That doesn't enter into it," McCandless said.
"It is more of a conversation about ideals and philosophies. It is about how students, past or present, have used a very strong unifying theme and builds community. But, that isn't to say that there aren't other things that can do the same."
School Committee member Cynthia Taylor says now the Braves represent the students being brave, and the direct thoughts of linking the term to Native Americans is non-existent for the students and the community. She cited the students at graduation who at the end of the national anthem hold out their hands and chant loudly "Braves!" at the end of the song.
"I heard was an incredible amount of pride in being brave. It is a completely different use of the word brave," Taylor said.
But, Taylor added, "times are changing and we have to change with the times." She said the new school building is changing Taconic's identity.
School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon said the term has been a "wonderful piece of our history" but the committee should take a serious look at whether or not it is offensive. The School Department has placed a massive emphasis on "cultural competency" in recent years, she said.
School Committee member Daniel Elias suggested that American Indian groups be included in the conversation. Elsewhere in the country, mascots have been argued over and only late in the game were those from the culture asked, he said, and some liked the name.
McCandless responded that "we will try to have it be as encompassing of a process as we can." He'll be speaking with local people and groups as well as the national umbrella groups to help guide a decision in the future. But nonetheless, the superintendent said the conversation will be healthy for the entire community no matter what the outcome ends up being.
"I see it as nothing but a healthy to have that conversation here locally and with people who care a lot about it," McCandless said.
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