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Pittsfield School Committee Takes No Action on Taconic Name Change Petition

By Jack Guerino
iBerkshires Staff
01:09AM / Thursday, September 10, 2020
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Committee took no action on a petition Wednesday asking it to delay a decision to eliminate the Taconic Braves name.

The petition with 200 signatures was simply accepted, essentially grounding a community effort to delay a possible mascot name change at the high school. 
 
"I think that people feel very strongly about being Braves and some people are thinking we are wiping out history," Chairwoman Katherine Yon said. "I don't think it is that at all. The Braves will always be the Braves; it is part of our history here. But it seems to me that the context of the history we are living in now is changing, and we are looking at a new era of social justice."
 
In August, the School Committee voted to eliminate the 50-year-old team mascot and begin the process of determining a new, more culturally acceptable identity for the vocational school.
 
The committee heard from James Massery, who spoke during public comment on behalf of the Committee to Save the Taconic Braves. This group submitted the petition.
 
"Being associated with Native Americans here is part of our history and part of our culture," he said. "Our position is to respectfully ask you to hold your decision to cancel the Braves name. We are not challenging your authority ... we are hoping to appeal to your authority."
 
He also noted that many in his group were under the impression that there was only going to be a discussion on the the name change in August. He said many were disappointed a vote was taken that night, and they did not have an opportunity to speak.
 
Yon read the petition that asked the committee to hold in abeyance the enforcement of its vote until the Massachusetts House Bill Senate 2593 regarding the use of Native American team names passed.
 
The petition also asked to allow the community a fair opportunity to speak to the name change 
 
Yon was hesitant to wait on any bill passing the Legislature and assessed that it could hold up the process for some time.
 
"There are five bills there; this one came up right before the pandemic hit," she said. "So I don't know how long that is going to take."  
 
She also spoke to a misunderstanding on the vote and said they decided to put the item back on the agenda Wednesday to allow more input.
 
Committee member William Cameron did not think the School Committee had to defend its decision or debate it and made the motion to accept the petition. 
 
"The School Committee is not a debating committee," he said. "We are in place to take action."
 
Before the unanimous vote, Mayor Linda Tyer asked what the next steps were.
 
Yon said Taconic Principal Matthew Bishop has taken the lead on the project and will form a committee.
 
"He does have some ideas going forward where the history of the Native American is not going to be forgotten at Taconic," Yon said. "I think there are ways to move forward with somewhat of a compromise."
 
During public comment, the School Committee also heard from some residents in opposition to the name change.
 
"Braves are Native American warriors, and I am here tonight to respectfully ask you to reconsider," Deborah Puia, of the class of 1985, said. "I always was and always will be proud to be a Taconic Brave."
 
"The name was chosen to honor the Native Americans, not disgrace them," Joe Murphy, of the class of 1977, said. "We were proud to put on the green and gold; we were proud to be part of the Braves family."
 
Tyer also read a communication from Sheriff Thomas Bowler who wrote he always believed the Braves exemplified courage, asking the committee to take another look at its decision and begin a larger community conversation about the name.
 
Taconic teacher Kelly Cusson was the only voice in favor of the committee's decision, and she encouraged school officials to stick by their decision.
 
"A Native American mascot is racist because it is a stereotype based on race," she said. "Whether it is a positive or negative a stereotype is harmful because it blocks understanding of native people."
 
Ultimately, the School Committee will vote on the new school title.

Tags: mascot,   Taconic High,   

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