No More ‘Chippewas,’ ‘Eskymos’ or ‘Fighting Scots’? Bill Bans Ethnic Mascots

State government officials would create a ‘banned in Michigan’ list

The Caledonia Fighting Scots, Escanaba Eskymos, and dozens of school district teams with mascots such as “Warriors,” “Braves” or “Indians” would have to find new names and mascots under a bill introduced in the Michigan Senate last week. The legislation would require specified state officials to determine which public school team names and mascots must be dropped.

Senate Bill 646 would require the Michigan State Board of Education, with the approval of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, to create a list within six months of “race- or ethnicity-based classifications” that schools may not use. The state Department of Education would also have the authority to withhold funds from schools that use prohibited names, mascots or symbols.

For example, Saranac Community Schools could lose up to $7.2 million in state aid for having the nickname “Redskins.” Escanaba Area Public Schools has the nickname “Eskymos” and could potentially forfeit $16.1 million in state money.

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The bill would allow schools to keep a banned name or mascot but only if the State Board of Education and the Department of Civil Rights grant a waiver. Even before seeking permissions from those two agencies, though, a school would have to get permission from a racial or ethnic organization or group “that the state board and Department of Civil Rights considers appropriate.”

The bill not only addresses school mascots and logos but also any nicknames, slogans, chants, songs or “other formal or informal auditory practice.”

Sen. Ian Conyers, D-Detroit, introduced the bill. He said the state should move past a time when school mascots were named after racial or ethnic groups.

“[The bill] is just for each community to have those conversations and if there’s something particularly offensive, we have to get rid of it,” Conyers said. “Looking forward, we’re realizing that there are still some remnants of incorrect thinking.”

He also believes the practice of using racial or ethnic terms or images could have a financial impact on the state. He said he’s worried that companies looking to relocate to Michigan might be turned off by school mascots they consider to be insensitive.

Michigan Capitol Confidential asked Conyers if he believed banning any school mascot which the state believed to be “race- or ethnicity-based” casts too broad a net. He said his hope was to get the ball rolling on the issue.

Conyers said he is building on a state board resolution from 2003 that “strongly recommends the elimination of American Indian mascots, nicknames, logos, fight songs, insignias, antics, and team descriptors by all Michigan schools.” In 2013, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights filed a complaint with the federal government, attempting to prevent districts from using American Indian mascots.

The bill goes beyond the controversy over teams with names like “Redskins” or “Braves,” however. It also could potentially force schools with names like “Vikings,” “Highlanders” or “Flying Dutchman” to change their branding.

Senate Bill 646 was referred to the Senate Education Committee. Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, who chairs the committee, did not reply to an email and a phone call to his office seeking comment.

Earlier this year, Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, introduced a bill that would prohibit public schools from naming themselves or their teams the “Redskins.”


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