Objections voiced to Sherando mascot

Dennis Paige, dressed in his Warrior attire, leads Sherando's 2016 graduates into Arrowhead Stadium for commencement ceremonies earlier this year. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — Sherando High School has celebrated Warrior victories in athletics for years, but one man has asked school administration to start looking at the school’s mascot with a more critical eye.

Gali Sanchez, a Front Royal man who traces his roots through his mother to the Abenaki tribe, approached Frederick County Public Schools administration last fall about the imagery surrounding the Warrior mascot. Initially speaking with Sherando Principal John Nelson, he gave a presentation to Superintendent David Sovine and other administrators in December.

Steve Edwards, coordinator of public relations and communication for Frederick schools, said that while naming Sherando High School was a School Board committee process that took input and suggestions from the community, a group of future students selected the school colors and mascot before the school opened in 1993. He said the Warrior title was chosen by student vote over the Braves, Chiefs and Hawks.

Sanchez said he’d been told that the Warrior mascot was meant to honor an Iroquois chief. He said he’s tried to de-bunk some false “legends” surrounding Native Americans through research and conversations with modern members of the Oneida tribe, one of five in the Iroquois Confederacy.

He said that the term “sherando” refers to the deer horns that the chief of a northeastern woodland tribe would wear. Origins of “Shenandoah” come from the Oneida name “Skenandoa,” of which there are many pronunciation and spelling variations.

Chief Skenandoa was a historical figure who supported the patriots during the American Revolutionary War — but Sanchez said he’s considered a statesman, not a warrior. Further, he said the chief’s tribe had little to do with the area that is now Frederick County.

“This was never his land,” Sanchez said. “There was never anybody named Sherando — that I know without any shadow of a doubt — so the whole thing is based on mythology.”

Edwards said that Sanchez’s points have been considered when drawing up an awareness and educational plan regarding Native American characterization in the high school.

“Our objective is to help to raise awareness and to educate students at Sherando, certainly, but (also) the Sherando community about the history behind Sherando High School … (and) the positive characteristics of that Native American warrior,” Edwards said.

That plan, which Edwards said may yet grow and change, consists of three basic goals: gathering books and other resources about Native Americans, promoting staff development in Native American issues and giving students windows to research and talk about those issues.

Nelson said discussion about the Warrior mascot would tie into the agenda of the Advisors’ Council Team of athletic team captains, club presidents and teacher sponsors this coming school year.

He said the team would have five major topics that it would discuss: the school’s 25th anniversary, new supplies for the school, the Warrior Wall for veterans, commercial development in the community and the Warrior mascot.

“We want to look at issues that are more global to the school,” he said. “The whole idea is how to make Sherando an even better school.”

He said he’s tasked school librarians with finding suitable research papers and books on Native Americans for the school in accordance with the plan’s first objective.

Angelina Okuda-Jacobs, a member of the Lumbee tribe who spoke to school administrators alongside Sanchez, said the December meeting was promising and positive, but that further discussion about the mascot was left open-ended.

“The real miseducation is how their students see native people every day and every week,” she said. “A daily misuse of native culture is what’s happening at the school.”

For football games and graduation, the school features a mascot demonstration of a man dressed as a Native American warrior decked in face paint and a headdress riding horseback. Sanchez said the outfit is inaccurate for any tribe that lived in the area and Okuda-Jacobs said it continues the misconception of who Native Americans are.

“The Iroquois people don’t dress like that and they certainly don’t act like that,” she said.

Both said there’s been support for schools and universities changing their mascots from Native Americans: Okuda-Jacobs mentioned a Colorado commission focused on such schools and Sanchez said Adidas has offered to assist schools that are switching out.

Among issues like depression, substance abuse and suicide in Native American populations, Sanchez said mascots damage public perception of natives and impact non-natives as well.

“Part of our destruction is we’re graduating generation after generation of people who think that that’s OK, that’s what Indians are,” he said.

Sanchez and Okuda-Jacobs both said the schools have sent them “vague” emails about plans to purchase books about Native Americans, but they haven’t been told what the books are about or who wrote them. Sanchez said he’s offered to help teach and conduct workshops on Native American issues himself, but has been “stonewalled.”

Both emphasized the latent harm in Sherando continuing to use the Warrior as a Native American symbol.

“When people say, ‘we’re honoring you,’ it just doesn’t coordinate with the facts,” Sanchez said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com