The Playwickian

I was my High School mascot: A Native American man’s path towards activism

Connor Menzel, News Editor

When discussing the current controversy over the Neshaminy High School mascot and logo, a Native American historian named Richie Plass stated that “the development of that word that refers to the blood running down the bodies of our ancestors after they were victimized by the Europeans and the United States’ Army is, to a degree, our “N” word.” He is, of course, discussing the word “r——-”, a word that has caused countless conflicts in the Neshaminy High School Community for years.

Plass grew up in the Menominee tribe, a federally recognized Native American tribe located in the northern part of Wisconsin, and he went to Shawano Community High School, where he very early on received poor treatment due to his race. During his high school years, he was asked to perform as the school mascot, an Indian, at basketball games. He originally declined, saying that it would be disrespectful towards his culture to dance just because some people wanted him to and that he was taught to not dance in the culturally correct way just for show.

However, when he asked his family on the reservation, they encouraged him to participate, saying to young Plass, “If they want a show, go ahead. You know how to dance and perform; just don’t wear anything sacred that we would wear and give them that Hollywood show.” Plass was surprised his family was encouraging him to do it, but he decided to tell the coach he would be the mascot for one game only. The game ended up being a huge success for Plass as the mascot, and the coaches asked him to do it again. He reluctantly agreed and continued to be the mascot for multiple games, performing tribal dances with plastic tomahawks on the court.

Plass’ true advocacy against the usage of Native American imagery as school mascots and logos really began after he performed for the basketball team at an away game, where the home side began throwing food and trash at him while calling him insulting names. After that incident, he decided to no longer perform as the Shawano High School mascot, instead deciding to fight against the mascot.

He currently works as the curator of a travelling exhibit of Native American artifacts titled Bittersweet Winds, which aims to educate the public about the Native American point of view on modern day issues and to demonstrate to the public how widespread the use of Indian imagery has become in American media. Plass calls it visual education. “I never try to take anyone’s opinion away or to give anybody an opinion. I go, ‘look — if you walk around, you’re going to see things,” he said. “I never say, ‘go look at this’ or ‘go look at that’ because human nature says that might be all they look at.”

Plass has been advocating against the use of Native American imagery for some time now, and has even talked to Donna Fann-Boyle, who is one of the local opponents of the Neshaminy High School r——- mascot. She is of Cherokee heritage, and she decided to fight against the name after her first son went through the Neshaminy School District. She spoke a few years ago at a school board meeting, urging the members to do something about the mascot issue, stating that “there are three million native people who are upset by this and offended by it.” Her advocacy did nothing to advance the cause, but it did raise awareness on the mascot issue.

Fann-Boyle and Plass met when Plass reached out to her while he was at Penn State with the Bittersweet Winds exhibit and asked her to come join him at a convention there. Plass recalled, “she gave me a t-shirt from Neshaminy, and that has been in the Bittersweet Winds exhibit ever since.” He also stated that it was very nice to meet another advocate for the same cause working in a different part of the country.

Plass often pushes the idea of research when it comes to the mascot issue. “I always tell people, ‘you can read a book or you can watch a movie,’. But I also tell them ‘go back to the beginning and do your research.’” Many of the Native American nations actually helped the Europeans survive when they came to America, which is why it is such a grave injustice to say that the name r—— is meant to honor the people the Europeans slaughtered. If Plass, along with other Native Americans, could have his way, he would get rid of all Native American imagery in the media. “Don’t say you’re honoring them by what you’re doing. Honor your own ancestors! And if there are still people around that don’t understand what the problem is, go up to them, shake their hand, and say ‘I’d like to ask you a few questions.’” This hands-on educational approach to the mascot issue advocated for by Plass is one potential way to resolve the problem that many opponents of the r——- mascot still don’t understand.

The Student News Site of Neshaminy High School
I was my High School mascot: A Native American man’s path towards activism