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(UPDATED) School Committee Votes To Keep 'Redmen' As Team Name, Symbol For Tewksbury High (Video)

Mar 24, 2016 01:41PM ● By Bill Gilman
UPDATE: This story was updated Friday, March 25, at 10 a.m., with additional quotes.)

Three months of information gathering, passionate debate and social media vitriol came to an end Wednesday night, as the School Committee voted, 4-1, to keep "Redmen" as the name of the Tewksbury Memorial High School teams and to retain the Native American image as the symbol of the high school.
The vote came after a recommendation by Superintendent Dr. John O'Connor that the district should "move on" from the Redmen name and image.
The vote itself was largely symbolic, as the committee was under no obligation to act, one way or another, on O'Connor's recommendation. But it put to rest, at least for the time being, an issue that had triggered emotional responses from those on both sides of the debate.
Committee member Brian Dick's motion to keep the Redmen name and image was met with applause by more than a dozen residents in attendance to show their support for the longtime TMHS symbol (VIDEO BELOW). Dick cited the overwhelming support for the Redmen nickname in the community.
"I am very proud to say that with a large effort among people who used to live here and people who still lives here who are able to accomplish maintaining our Redmond name," said resident Heidi DeSisto, who started the "Redmen Are Here To Stay" Facebook page. "I thank the school committee for their boat as well and I do believe that we should educate the kids a Native American history."
Dick was  joined by committee members Dennis Francis, Jamey Cutelis and Chairperson Krissy Palimeno in the vote to preserve "Redmen." The lone dissenting vote was cast by committee member Jayne Miller, who thanked O'Connor for his research and said she had also done her "due diligence" on the issue.
"What I know for sure is that this mascot and logo are well-loved by many people in this town, and formerly of this town, who are not racist and believe it to be a point of pride in Tewksbury 
 history and culture. I respect their opinion, even while I disagree with it," said Miller. "What I also know is that it is a dubious honor, if not outright offensive, to have a mascot named solely based on the color of skin. Simply substitute any other ethnicity and it becomes readily apparent that the term “Redmen” is perhaps ready for retirement."
Miller was sitting in on her final School Committee meeting. Miller was selected to serve a 10-month interim term on the committee and opted not to see election to a full term next month.
Before making his recommendation, O'Connor walked the committee through the material he had gathered during his three months researching the issue (VIDEO BELOW), which began when two mothers raised the issue at a School Committee meeting in December. O'Connor said that due largely to the recent Washington Redskins copyright lawsuit and the offer by the Adidas Corp. to pay for new uniforms and equipment for schools replacing Native American mascots and names, Tewksbury High is not alone in tackling the topic.
"This year, more school districts are dealing with this than ever before," he said.
O'Connor spoke of the community forum in January that attracted more than 500 residents, most of whom supported keeping the Redmen name. He also went over the results of a student survey taken earlier this month, which showed nearly 85 percent of the student body wanted to keep the name. He said he was impressed with how seriously the students took the issue.
"We had 175 students follow up their responses (with comments) with what I thought was  very cogent analysis of the issue," said O'Connor.
But he also mentioned the report by the US Department of Education on the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, that called mascots such as "Chiefs" "Redmen," "Redskins," and "Indians" demeaning and derogatory to Native Americans.
The superintendent said his office and members of the School Committee and TMHS administration had received dozens of e-mails, letters and information from residents, alumni and Native American groups on both sides of the issue.
O'Connor said he was particularly struck by comments in a letter from Chief Tom "Rising Eagle" Libby and Elder Ray "Roaring Bear" Wagner of the Greater Lowell Indian Cultural Association. 
"Our stand on this issue has never really wavered," the letter read, in part. "We will stand by any organization that shows our people the respect and dignity we deserve. All we ask is that mascots/logos are presented in a positive, respectful and historically accurate manner that can bring proudness to not only the organization that is utilizing it but to the nation it represents. If this can be done, we support it. If not, we don't. We are not 100 percent convinced the term "Redmen" can achieve this but would listen if the school committee were to ask us for a meeting to discuss this directly with the people it effects."
Representing the School Committee, O'Connor followed up on the letter by meeting with the GLICA leadership. One particular concern voiced by the leaders was that Native American names and imagery (such as streets, bridges, schools, etc.) was being removed from throughout the region, thus contributing to erasing the history of the Native Americans in the region.
O'Connor predicted the "Redmen" issue would come up again at some point and that it might be time to get ahead of the issue and "move on" from the name. However, O'Connor said, if the School Committee members opted not to change the nickname, they should strongly consider steps to strengthen the relationship between the school district and the Native American Community. He suggested such steps as some type of a fundraising event for the Greater Lowell Indian Cultural Association and an elective course at the high school in Native American studies with an emphasis on the tribes of the region.


Superintendent O'Connor makes his recommendation on the Redmen issue.

Committee member Brian Dick makes the motion to preserve "Redmen."

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