Locals not buying idea of ditching Chieftains name

Locals not buying idea of ditching Chieftains name

GLOCESTER – Local residents interviewed by The Valley Breeze & Observer this week say they are against changing the logo of the Ponaganset Chieftans, opposing the idea of changing the name as well.

Last Wednesday, the Foster-Glocester School Committee passed a motion to let each community bring the mascot name and logo to a vote on the November 2022 general election ballot.

For the second time in as many years, the PHS mascot name of Chieftains is under pressure by local Native American tribes who feel the name is outdated and racist, and this time, the School Committee will let the voters decide.

Tribe members say the logo is also not a traditional representation of local tribes.

Judith McAuley, a Chepachet resident who as playing cards with friends at the Glocester Pavilion this week, said the idea of a name change is ridiculous. The consensus among the group of seniors was that it’s best to leave things alone.

“Just let it be,” she said.

Richard Fromont echoed her sentiments, saying there is no need for a name change.

“It isn’t necessary,” he said.

Cousins Josh and Jesse Greene also did not see the need for the name change. Josh graduated from PHS in 2016. “I’m very proud to be a Chieftain. I don’t think it is derogatory,” he said.

Jesse, who attended Smithfield High School, agreed and said it is weird to change a mascot name.

The issue arose again after members of the local Nipmuc tribe contacted the Rhode Island Commission on Prejudice and Bias to mediate with PHS for the removal of the mascot, which depicts the head of a chieftain wearing a headdress.

Members of the Nipmuc tribe were not allowed to speak at the meeting before the committee went to a vote, noted RICPB Chairman Joe Reddish.

The committee did allow former Assistant Principal Stephen Mitchell, who is a member of the Penobscot Tribe in Maine, to speak on the matter for more than 20 minutes.

He said he felt the mascot and bust made him feel at home with the Ponaganset district, arguing that a chieftain is a respected leader of a tribe, and not derogatory.

“My 46-year educational career would not have been successful or rewarding if not for Ponaganset,” Mitchell said

He added that he never heard “covert or overt” racism while in the area. Mitchell said the logo reflects the school community’s pride with honor.

At the meeting, Chief Red Spirit of the Nipmuc Nation said he wants to see the logo removed and does not understand why children running around with Native American headdresses on their uniforms is not racist.

Pam Ellis of the Nipmuc Tribe said it is infuriating to hear Mitchell say that the Nipmuc tribe was “nearly extinct.” She said Mitchell does not have the authority to represent the Nipmuc Nation. Racism, she said, should be extinct.

In a letter to the Foster-Glocester School Committee, the RICPB said it is willing to work with the district to further conversation on updating the mascot, and to provide a foundation to increase awareness and inclusiveness of Native Americans.

“In a court of public opinion, in and beyond your community, maintaining your mascot would continue to demonstrate that Ponaganset does not practice cultural competency in this area,” RICPB wrote to the committee.

It maintained that the mascot logo is an inaccurate depiction of marginalized groups.

“There is a window of opportunity to educate the Foster-Glocester community and its younger generation on the value of acknowledging the contributions and sacrifices of the Wabbaquasset Nipmuc Tribe, the original inhabitants of the land going back thousands of years,” the letter stated.

School Committee co-Chairwoman Shelly Pezza said she did not want the decision to be in the School Committee’s hands.

Glocester Town Council President Jay Forgue said he and endorsed Republicans on the council, the majority, will support bringing the logo to a vote in town.

Foster Town Council President Denise DiFranco could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Last year, Supt. Michael Barnes denied allegations that the district was considering changing the mascot name and logo at the same time NFL’s Washington Redskins updated its name to the Washington Football Team last July.

The Woonsocket Warriors Youth League decided to change its name from Redskins at the same time last year.

At the time, Barnes said he was misquoted on a name change, leading to controversy. Then, as now, the consensus among the Foster and Glocester communities was that the name change was unnecessary.

Pezza told The Observer last July that there were more pressing items on the agenda, and the logo and name had not received backlash since the school opened.