Indigenous Peoples Day celebration replaces Columbus Day at K-State

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Attendees of the Indigenous Peoples Day celebration in the Hemisphere Room of Hale Library play “Hide the Bone” on Oct. 10, 2016. (Emily Starkey | The Collegian)

On a day traditionally marked by celebration of Christopher Columbus’ 1492 discovery of the New World, the first Indigenous Peoples Day at Kansas State saw a daylong conference, including discussion of changing the Manhattan High School mascot.

Leaders from #ReImageMHK, a campaign to change the MHS Indians’ mascot, said this is the fourth attempt in the past 30 years to change the mascot.

The leaders of the campaign include Lisa Tatonetti, professor of English, LaVerne Bitsie-Baldwin, director of the Multicultural Engineering Program, Kerri Keller, executive director of the Career Center, and Sonya Ortiz, coordinator of the College of Engineering Project IMPACT Kompass. They all said their roles in #ReImageMHK are separate from their positions at K-State.

Bitsie-Baldwin said Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated “to reclaim a narrative, because the only narrative that people are taught within the schools is the poem, ‘In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

She and the other leaders said Columbus should not be celebrated, due to the sex trade, murdering of children, castration of men and other wrongs inflicted on the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

They also said the schools teach little about the Americas prior to Columbus.

“We had our own urban cities prior to Columbus coming and supposedly just landing on us and us just being savage,” Ortiz said.

Whose land are we on?

“There are a few classes (on Native American history and culture) at K-State,” Tatonetti said. “Personally, I think it should be required of all students, because I would ask your readers, ‘Do they know whose land we are on?'”

Tatonetti said K-State and Manhattan were settled on Kaw, Osage and Pawnee homeland, as protected by a government treaty.

“It was taken illegally by white settlers,” Tatonetti said. “And I don’t mean just a little illegally, they moved onto (the land) knowing it was Kaw land. But they knew that if there were enough of them came, they would get the treaty overturned, and they did.”

Bitsie-Baldwin said the situation was detailed in “The Darkest Period,” a book by Ronald D. Parks.

Now, the Indians mascot, which was originally intended as an honor to a former MHS football coach of Native American ancestry, may be removed.

“(The campaign) is called ReImageMHK because it’s not just the high school that has the image,” Bitsie-Baldwin said. “It’s everywhere. It’s the whole community.”

Bitsie-Baldwin said the mascot is not a good way to honor Frank Prentup, the former coach, because it makes no specific reference to him or connection to the individual.

“It’s team spirit,” Bitsie-Baldwin. “But when that team is a race of people, it’s time for a change … Would you cheer for the Cleveland Caucasians or the Cincinnati Jews?”

Keller said the mascot perpetuates an inaccurate stereotype that she still sees in today’s youth.

“The use of a mascot raises a native people in an image that’s not true for them today,” Keller said. “And as you saw here (at the Indigenous Peoples Day celebration) tonight, it’s very different than ‘bare chested man riding a pony,’ which is what a child commented on when I did a children’s word in my church just this weekend. So we have a long ways to go to educate our next generations.”

Mascot stereotyping leads to poor self-esteem

Bitsie-Baldwin said it has been 15 years since the last push to change the mascot. Tatonetti said there has been “an incredible amount of research” on mascot usage since then.

“There is no question that mascot usage harms the self-esteem of not just indigenous kids, but minority students generally,” Tatonetti said. “Studies have shown that it makes non-native white students less empathetic to minorities … So basically we are teaching our kids to be racist.”

Tatonetti said she tried to find opposing research, but could not find any.

“All those studies that were connected to self-esteem, that connects that to academic performance,” Bitsie-Baldwin said. “Academic performance is directly related to self-esteem. So if you are creating an environment where native students have a consistent stereotype threat, then you’re linking their ability to that mascot directly.”

Ortiz said this creates a hostile learning environment for students. Tatonetti said research shows that even if indigenous students support the mascot, it still hurts their self-esteem.

“Any stereotype is bad,” Bitsie-Baldwin said. “Every stereotype is bad … whether it’s a positive stereotype or a negative stereotype. They all affect the learning environment.”

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Jason Tidd graduated from Kansas State University's Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication in May 2017. He was the spring 2017 editor-in-chief, fall 2016 news editor and spring 2016 assistant news editor. While at K-State, Jason played baritone in the Pride of Wildcat Land marching band.