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Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians renews calls for Dowagiac schools to change logo from "Chieftains" on Indigenous Peoples' Day

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians is asking Dowagiac Union Schools to change its logo and name.
Dowagiac Union Schools
The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians is asking Dowagiac Union Schools to change its logo and name.

Since 1928, the Dowagiac school system has used the term “Chieftains” as the district’s mascot.

School leaders said recently that the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians has supported the use of the moniker and members of the tribe even gave input for the design of the feathered headdress in the district’s logo.

However, on Monday the Pokagon Band announced it intends to rescind a resolution from 1990 that approved the district’s usage of the name “Chieftains.”

In a written statement, the tribal council said non-Native organizations using Native American symbolism “promotes harmful stereotypes and has a detrimental effect on our Native American youth.”

The statement goes on attribute sentiments to Tribal Chairwoman Rebecca Richards who says that “Although some may argue they are paying tribute to Native Americans, it is not an honor for our people to be depicted as characters.”

The Pokagon Band’s letter on Indigenous Peoples’ Day comes in response to a letter from the Dowagiac Union school board in August saying it will keep the school’s name and logo in the face of requests from the Pokagon Band to change it.

The August letter is signed by former Dowagiac Union School board president Brent Brewer, though he says he is writing on behalf of the school board as a whole.

In the document, the district says it uses the Chieftains name to facilitate learning about the area’s Native American heritage and says the district has a documented history of using the name with respect and the approval of the Pokagon Band.

The district acknowledges that the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the state’s board of education recommend changing mascot names if they use Native American themes, but says there is no legal requirement to do so.

Leader Publications in Niles reports that Brewer resigned as school board president just weeks after writing the letter after he was charged with domestic violence. Current Dowagiac school board president Ruth Ausra declined to comment beyond the contents of Brewer’s letter when contacted by WVPE. The other members of the school board did not immediately respond to messages from a reporter.

Numerous schools in the area have recently changed their Native-American themed mascots including Goshen, Paw Paw and Hartford High Schools. In May, St. Joseph High School in South Bend retired the name of “Indians” after consulting with the Pokagon Band.

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians has more than 6,000 citizens spread throughout the country, though most live southwest Michigan and northern Indiana.

The Pokagon Band’s statement says Dowagiac Union Schools sits on the homeland of the Potawatomi Tribe.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.