Op-Ed: It's Time To Retire The Current Tewksbury High Logo And Mascot
Jan 06, 2016 10:16AM
By Tewksbury Congregational Church
The Tewksbury Mascot
Before I discuss the issue at hand, I want to be clear that I am speaking as a resident and parent, not in any official way as a member of the Board of Selectmen.
Since my family and I moved to town more than 15 years ago I have been uncomfortable with the “Redmen” mascot for our Tewksbury teams. My wife and I never have purchased any school gear with the name or logo on it, and have always considered the name to be offensive. I have many friends that vehemently support the current name and logo, and I respect their opinion, and in many cases, their life-long connection to that mascot. For them, being a Tewksbury Redmen is a membership in a long and storied history of athletic prowess, pride, and accomplishment. I do not consider them racist or bad people because they want to keep the mascot name that they grew up with and have watched their children play for over the past 81 years. However, I would argue that their pride in Tewksbury would be just as strong if it were the Tewksbury Militia, Tewksbury Rockets, or Tewksbury Red Fox; and it would not be at the expense of Native Americans.
The most common argument for maintaining the current mascot is that it honors the culture and heritage of the Native Americans that lived in this area before us. Depending on your perspective, the term “Redmen” is a derogatory term that is equivalent to “Redskin”, the scalp of a Native American returned for a bounty; or a generic reference to all Native Americans based on the color of their skin. If our goal was truly to honor the Native American heritage of our area, wouldn’t we at least call them by their name? For example, the Florida State Seminoles or the Utah Utes have relationships with a specific tribe, and they have removed generic Native American images from their activities and publications. The purpose of any school mascot is to give the community a symbol to represent the desired athletic qualities of strength, endurance, and a fighting spirit. By using a word that at best, generically refers to a race of people, and a logo of a Native American in a headdress, the current Tewksbury mascot, logo, and associated chants reduce the complicated history of Native Americans in our area to a cartoon caricature.
While I am not a historian, I spent some time reading about the history of Native Americans in our area (a particularly informative piece can be found here: (http://library.uml.edu/Clh/OH/ETHNO/Ethnicity%20in%20Lowell.pdf). I have learned that this area was inhabited by members of the Pennacook Confederacy, who returned over many seasons to Wamesit, now the Belvidere area of Lowell. In 1653, Wamesit was established as a “Praying Town”, an attempt by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, led by John Eliot to convert Native Americans to Christianity. In 1675, Wampanoag chief Metacomet, who had adopted the English name “King Philip”, led a united assault on colonial towns in response to continued encroachment of settlers on native lands. The “Praying Indians” of Wamesit and the other 13 “Praying Towns” were confined to their homes during “King Philip’s War”, and at the conclusion of that war, the remaining inhabitants moved north towards Canada or were sold into slavery in the West Indies. So to be clear, the Native American people who inhabited this region were largely driven from their lands approximately 50 years before Tewksbury became a town and 100 years before the ratification of the Declaration of Independence. Which part of that heritage is being celebrated when fans at a Tewksbury football game chant “Redmen on the warpath!”?
It is time to retire the current logo and mascot. Let’s take the opportunity provided by Adidas and other companies that will help with the replacement of uniforms. We can phase those changes in over a period of time allowing us to come to a consensus around a new mascot and logo that continues to symbolize Tewksbury Tough, but does so with respect for all people.
Bruce Panilaitis is a member of the Tewksbury Board of Selectmen.