More voices speak out against Sherando mascot

WINCHESTER – A number of Native Americans from different tribes spoke to the Frederick County School Board on Tuesday about reconsidering Sherando High School’s warrior mascot.

Individuals used the public comment period of a work session to speak about use of Native American religious icons and traditions at the school. Speakers included Native American students, a University of Virginia professor and an attorney who specializes in Native American law. One white man spoke among them.

Shelia Hansen introduced herself as a Shawnee Indian who grew up in Winchester, saying that this is the land of her people and that “we are still here.” She said a halftime performance of a sun dance and rain dance at the school were discouraging and disrespectful.

“To say that was a sun dance is very disrespectful; that’s one of our ceremonies that we have fought (for) and until 1974, we were not allowed – in this country, where we have freedom of religion – to practice,” she said.

Shawn Harrah, a student from Culpeper, said the mascot issue clashes with schools teaching about respecting other cultures and encouraging diversity.

“You’re kind of promoting a mascot that insults my culture, that insults my people,” she said. “And you don’t have to be native to see it.”

Many speakers focused on the use of the sun dance, eagle feathers and hand prayers – when a blessing is made with a painted handprint – as uses of Native American religious objects at Sherando. Angelina Okuda-Jacobs, a member of the Lumbee Tribe and attorney specializing in American Indian law, spoke to the board from a legal perspective.

“To see (the sun dance) used in this way is very troubling for many of us,” she said. “But it certainly does promote a religion, which is something that constitutionally, no (public) school is allowed to do.”

She closed her statement by offering a “continuing dialogue” with the division. Okuda-Jacobs met with Frederick County administration last December to discuss the mascot alongside Gali Sanchez, a member of the Abenaki nation from Front Royal – who also spoke at Tuesday’s work session.

Rollie Wilson, of Culpeper, told the board that “it’s up to us as white people … to really open our minds.”

“You may not know that there are Indians within your school district, but I’m sure that there are,” he said. “You may be teaching classes to Indians or native people in your classrooms and you may not be aware of the impacts of these issues on them.”

He said some dismiss Native American mascots as not being a serious issue like poverty, but that “I can tell you that all these issues are connected.”

“And I ask that you think broadly about how the dehumanizing effect of these mascots impacts other issues in Indian country,” he said.

Diane Thompson, who was married to a Lenape peace chief for 35 years, ended the commentary by thanking the Frederick County School Board and complimenting the Shenandoah Valley.

“What everyone else has said hurts us all,” she said. “Because when you dehumanize one, you dehumanize all of them.”

Steve Edwards, coordinator of policy and communications for the division, said after the meeting that the schools’ position hasn’t changed since hearing from Sanchez and Okuda-Jacobs in December.

“We welcome Mr. Sanchez and the others sharing their views,” he said, adding that any action taken in regard to the mascot would have to come from the student body.

Sherando staff and administration had created a Native American characterization awareness and education plan with a 2016-2017 timeline. Goals included providing books, staff development and opportunities for research focused on Native American history and issues.

During Tuesday’s meeting, division staff reported that Sherando’s Advisory Counsel Team and history clubs are continuing to research Native American tribes local to the area.

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