Competing calls to ditch, keep Turners Falls High School Indian mascot

  • While one petition calls for keeping the Turners Falls Indian mascot, above, as is, a second petition is calling for it to be changed. RECORDER STAFF/MATT BURKHARTT

For the Gazette
Wednesday, September 21, 2016


TURNERS FALLS — A division has emerged this fall over whether Turners Falls High School should ditch its Indians mascot, with community members circulating dueling online petitions as a way to garner support and gauge interest on both sides of the argument.

One petition calls for the Gill-Montague Regional School Committee to change the name because of concerns of racist imagery and stereotyping of Native Americans.

Another petition urges the committee to keep the name, saying it is a way to pay homage to the Native American men and women who died as a result of the King Philip’s War.

Those in support of changing the name say arguments surrounding the tradition are not enough to keep it.

“Those of us who are calling for the change in the mascot have an understanding of tradition,” the petition reads. “Segregated schools and Jim Crow laws in the South were a ‘tradition.’ Derogatory names used for Asians, Latinos and many other races of people were part of a tradition as well. Just because it is a tradition does not make it right.”

The high school and the village are named after Capt. William Turner, who led troops into the battle where 300 Native Americans were killed on the ground that is now Turners Falls.

Those in favor of changing the mascot have argued that, given the historical context, it isn’t appropriate for a high school named after Turner to have the “Indians” as its mascot.

“While we understand that this mascot has the intention of honoring the indigenous and native tribes who were massacred in The Battle of Turners Falls, research and education has shown that it is not the case,” the petition, posted on Change.org, reads.

The petition also noted that since 2001, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has called for an end to the use of Native American images and nicknames in sports symbols.

Keep the mascot

The Change.org petition advocating to keep the mascot was started by Jeremy Dillensneider.

“The ‘Indian’ logo/mascot was adopted by TFHS to pay homage to the Native American Men and Women who died as a result of the King Philip’s War,” the petition reads. “If the School Committee or the administration wants to take on the task of changing the mascot, there should be a mechanism in place to help them weigh their decision and I believe this petition can do just that, show them that we don’t want another mascot.”

Lew Collins, who graduated from the high school in 1980 and now owns Turners Falls sports bar Between the Uprights, said he and other alumni are preparing to make their voices heard in the discussion. “I’m not going to go down without a fight, and thousands of other people feel the same way,” Collins said.

He said he views the mascot as a show of respect, not as something derogatory. “It really hurt that something like this could be taken away,” Collins said. “Everything we have, all of our traditions, could be pulled out from under us.”

Both petitions are in response to a plan introduced during the Sept. 13 School Committee meeting. The plan is a mascot review process that would essentially open debate on the subject. The plan has yet to be voted on or approved by the School Committee, but approving the plan does not necessarily mean the mascot will change.