Rosenberg says he is against state mascot ban

  • A balloon sporting the Turners Falls Indians mascot at the commencement of the Class of 2017 Friday, June 2. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

Combined sources
Published: 6/7/2017 10:18:52 PM

BOSTON — Senate President Stanley Rosenberg on Tuesday staked out a position against a statewide ban on Native American mascots, saying the issue should be decided at the local level.

“It’s really about local standards,” Rosenberg said during a WGBH Radio interview, as the Legislature’s Education Committee held a hearing on a bill that would prohibit Massachusetts schools from using Native American mascots.

Rosenberg’s district includes Montague, where the community has been divided on Gill-Montague School Committee’s decision to remove the Turners Falls High School mascot, formerly the Indian.

Rosenberg joins Sen. Barbara L’Italien, who has also said she believes the issue should be handled at the local level.

L’Italian filed the bill at the request of two constituents from Tewksbury, where the high school mascot is the Redmen. The Tewksbury School Board recently voted to keep the school’s mascot. L’Italien is not a sponsor of the bill.

During the hearing on Tuesday, supporters of the bill said such mascots can be demeaning and do not represent the culture and history of Native Americans. Opponents countered that the mascots honored local history and are longstanding parts of a community’s identity.

Lincoln resident Jason Packineau argued for the bill, saying the mascots were not created by Native Americans and limit native people’s control over their own identities. House Committee Chairwoman Alice Peisch asked Packineau why he thought there should be a statewide ban when mascot questions are traditionally handled by local school committees.

Packineau, an enrolled citizen of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota and community coordinator at Harvard’s Native American Program, said it was hard for him and other opponents of Native American mascots to advocate successfully in communities where they do not live.

“A bill helps us because those of us who need that voice, it helps us have a much greater impact,” he said.

A day before saying mascots “should be a matter of local decision,” Rosenberg told reporters he would wait for the Education Committee’s recommendation on the bill. He said Monday his constituents were divided on the issue.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday told reporters he would “follow the lead of the Legislature on that one.”

“I don’t think anybody should use anything as a mascot in a derogatory sense,” Baker said.

The bill’s only Senate sponsor is Sen. William Brownsberger, and it is backed in the House by Reps. John Scibak, Elizabeth Malia, Jose Tosado, Michelle DuBois, Jack Lewis and Ruth Balser.

Rep. Jim Miceli, who represents Tewksbury, testified against the bill, saying the town has a “great relationship” with the name and local officials there had decided against changing it.

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