School committee votes to retire Tomahawk mascot

On+Wednesday%2C+April+28+the+Regional+School+Committee+voted+to+retire+the+Tomahawk+as+Algonquin%27s+mascot.

Ben Schanzer

On Wednesday, April 28 the Regional School Committee voted to retire the Tomahawk as Algonquin’s mascot.

Melissa Dai, News Editor

The Regional School Committee (RSC) voted to officially retire the Tomahawk as Algonquin’s mascot in a meeting via Zoom on Wednesday, April 28.

Superintendent Gregory Martineau, Principal Sean Bevan and the 10 members of the RSC were in attendance. Near the beginning of the meeting, Martineau gave his official recommendation to the RSC, which was instrumental in this decision.

“Ignoring Native Americans’ opposition to the use of Native American mascots, symbols and nicknames is not aligned with Algonquin Regional High School’s values,” Martineau said during the meeting. “Continuing the use of the mascot reinforces negative stereotypes and overshadows past and present contributions, perspectives and struggles of Native American people. I support the Study Group for Mascot Review’s recommendation to retire Algonquin Regional High School’s current mascot.”

Before Martineau shared his recommendation, the RSC heard from several  community members in the audience who explained their perspectives on the issue. These perspectives were fairly divided, with some in favor of keeping the mascot and others fervently opposed to it.

“Instead of making tangible progress and responding responsibly and empathetically to requests from numerous Indigenous organizations to stop using their likeness and cultural items as mascots, we have as a district chosen to allow a predominantly white school committee to vote on their civil rights,” audience member Jessica Levinson said during the meeting. “I ask you to do the right thing—to heed native voices—and retire the mascot without delay.”

With the audience perspectives and Martineau’s recommendation in mind, RSC members proceeded to discuss their thoughts on the issue. Most members articulated their agreement with Martineau’s recommendation.

“I believe that the mascot is something that expresses the values and characters of the school,” RSC Vice Chair Sean O’Shea said during the meeting. “Having a mascot that’s hurtful to some and polarizing to others does not accomplish that goal for me. [The mascot] should respect the quality of education the students receive, the relationships that are built and the accomplishments of the students, and for those reasons, I support retiring the mascot.”

The only exception was RSC member Daniel Kolenda, who favored keeping the Tomahawk as the mascot.

“It’s important to recognize that the Tomahawk is a tool,” Kolenda said during the meeting. “It was created by Native Americans as a tool. The fact that it has been used for decades as the mascot of our high school reflects the great pride that the school has in the Native American community. It has never been centered on racism, ever. I have a fear that if we retire it tonight, then what are we saying to those individuals who have known this mascot as part of their high school time for decades. Are we saying that they’re racist? I hope not.”

From there, members began to put forth motions—formal proposals that needed to be seconded by another member—about how to move forward with the mascot. Kolenda made the first motion: to table the vote for later. No member seconded this motion, and it failed. 

RSC member Paul Desmond then proposed a multi-section motion (based on a similar motion passed by the Walpole School Committee last year) to officially retire the mascot, and RSC member Paul Butka seconded it immediately. Once the motion was on the table, members discussed various aspects of it and noted some clarifications for the official record, though no amendments were made. 

Aside from Kolenda, who left the meeting early due to another obligation and therefore did not cast a vote, the vote was unanimous. The Tomahawk is to be retired.