WI school district bans Native American sports apparel

Wisconsin has always been a little bit ahead of its neighbor to the west when it comes to discouraging Native American mascots by sports teams.

The state was among the first to pass a law allowing residents in a school district to file a complaint and force school districts to prove that a federally recognized tribe has given its blessing to a logo and name. Several schools have since changed their nicknames and logos.

Now Madison is going a step further. The school district there is banning students from wearing any sports-themed apparel with a Native American mascot or name. It also asking visiting teams that still have an offending name and mascot to leave the apparel home, Madison.com reports today.

Tim Fish, the Title VII Indian Education coordinator in the Madison School District, said the movement began when Native American students, who make up less than 1 percent of the city school’s student population, told him they felt invisible. He created the Native American Student Association, and the group’s first priority was to ban clothing that members deemed harmful, he said.

The rule won’t outlaw all Native American names and logos, Fish said. The ban focuses exclusively on sports teams with Native American names.

Before the 2015-16 school year begins, the Native American Student Association will work with the district to publish a list of prohibited logos and team names, which Saiz said will include teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida State Seminoles.

He said that even though a few Native groups don’t find those team names offensive, they will still be banned because, as sports teams with Native names, they create a negative stereotype.

While some schools in the district have Native American names — such as Black Hawk Middle School — none has an athletic team or mascot based on Native Americans.

That means a student could wear a shirt from Black Hawk Middle School because its athletic teams use a wolf as a mascot. A shirt that reads “Chicago Blackhawks,” however, would be banned, because it’s a professional hockey team that uses a Native American name and mascot.

The American Civil Liberties Union Wisconsin is urging the district to be careful when enforcing the new policy this fall. Schools can legally limit their students’ speech, but only when there is evidence that the speech is disruptive or harmful to the learning environment, Chris Ahmuty, the executive director, said.