Manhattan-Ogden school board issues deadline on Indian mascot decision

Manhattan High School's West Campus features a large indian head scuplture in front of the main building. (Nicholas Cady | The Collegian)

During their July 19 meeting, the Manhattan-Ogden School Board established a Sept. 6 deadline to formally address recommendations on what should be done with Manhattan High School’s Indian mascot.

The MHS Indian has received criticism from local Native Americans for decades as an inaccurate or offensive depiction of their culture, but defenders say it is a symbol of respect with more than 70 years of history.

District superintendent Marvin Wade created the school board’s mascot advisory committee in December 2016, tasking it with discussing various factors related to the Indian mascot controversy. The committee recently finished its work after six meetings.

The committee proposed the creation of a scholarship for Native American students and a separate advisory committee to help educate students about Native American history and culture. The MHS student commons would also be named after Frank Prentup, a former faculty member with Native American ancestry.

The advisory committee also discussed options and guidelines for a replacement mascot that would be voted on by the student body. The committee estimated the total cost of retiring the Indian mascot to be around $275,000 over the course of a few years.

Current school board members and Superintendent Wade declined to comment on the matter or could not be reached.

According to the MHS Alumni Association’s website, the Indian was created in 1940 as the school’s first official mascot. Before this, MHS sports teams were usually called the “Junior Wildcats” in reference to Kansas State University, or “The Blues” in reference to their blue school colors.

According to Ralph Rogers, retired teacher/administrator at MHS, the Indian was selected by the student body in honor of Prentup, then the MHS football coach. Prentup reportedly donated a traditional headdress to the school, and MHS used Indian-themed mascot costumes and marching band uniforms for many years.

Criticism of the MHS Indian began to slowly build in the ’60s and ‘70s, especially after opposing high schools began chanting “scalp the Indians” at sporting events.

The mascot controversy met new heights in the ’90s when Native American students and advocacy groups from K-State and elsewhere began speaking to the school board about the use of the Indian mascot.

MHS students also began to get involved in the 1990s. According to the MHS Alumni Association’s website, a student editorial published in the school’s newspaper said it is dehumanizing to use an Indian as a mascot because most mascots are animals or inanimate objects.

The school board voted in 2001 to keep the Indian for the time being, saying it was a symbol of respect for Native American culture and former MHS faculty. However, the discussions and controversy still have not subsided.