New bill takes on Native American mascots in Mass. schools

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BOSTON - State leaders are considering whether to ban public schools from using Native American mascots and in a hearing on the bill Tuesday, both sides made their case.

At Winchester High School it is printed, etched, emblazoned. Athletes here are "The Sachems,” a term that refers to the leader of some Native American tribes.

Across the commonwealth, this imagery has been used by countless teams and not everyone is happy about it.

"We'd like to see names in Massachusetts that are not discriminatory. And Massachusetts Public Schools have a mandate to have schools free of racial bias,” said Linda Thomas of Tewksbury.

Thomas is part of a group supporting a bill to ban Native American names and imagery from being used in schools as mascots.  In her town, the school committee recently voted to keep the name "Redmen" for their athletes.

“I understand that people are attached to the name.  There's a history, there's a tradition. But Native Americans have been expressing their discomfort and the real harm that comes to them from these names,” said Thomas.

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That's not the case for Amesbury's Gene Weeden Willams.

“I'm proud to see the effigy of my people on jackets, anywhere,” said Williams.

And Williams says he's also proud to see the mark of native people recognized throughout the community.

Williams says the debate itself draws a line between native and non-native people.

“One people. One country.  This division must stop,” said Williams.

But Thomas says, the references are outdated and unwelcome.

"Language changes over time, cultures change over time.  Towns have already changed their mascots, and teams are able to move on and have fans, and support their teams,” said Thomas.

The bill was introduced "by request" of State Senator Barbara L'italien's constituents.

Her office tells Boston 25 News the bill will now be considered by the committee on education, which is expected to make a decision by February 1, 2018.

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