CUYAHOGA HEIGHTS, Ohio — The impact of the Cleveland Indians name change to “Guardians” continues to ripple and polarize fans. The issue extends beyond the diamond as many school districts in the state evaluate their own names and mascots.
With the spotlight moving past the pros, local indigenous leaders told News 5 it’s time for change to trickle down into the next generation.
“There’s a growing body of scientific research that has shown native mascots negatively impact our community, especially native youth,” Cynthia Connelly with the Lake Erie Native American Council. “I’m talking about lower self esteem, lower community worth, the inability to see a future for themselves.”
It’s a topic already being tackled in some area districts.
“If it’s not appropriate at the collegiate level, and it’s not appropriate at major league sports, why should it be appropriate at the elementary and secondary school level,” asked Sundance, executive director with the Cleveland American Indian Movement.
Last year, Parma City Schools announced plans to discuss changing the mascot and logo of Parma Senior High School away from “Redmen.”
The district said the name was changed to Redmen from the Greyhounds in 1936 as a way to honor Native Americans but community members said even with the right intentions, the name is offensive.
A spokesperson for the district said that the name change is still in a holding pattern.
In Ohio, 23 high school teams still use “Indians” as a nickname, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
Another ten schools still go by “Redskins,” seven schools utilizing “Braves” and five with “Redmen.”
Some schools have already changed their mascots, to anything from nighthawks to the brave.
In Cuyahoga Heights, a community so closely tied to its heritage, the transition is already underway.
Superintendent and Cuyahoga Heights native Tom Evans understands the difficulty behind changing the school’s name.
“It separates a community that’s normally very united,” he said. “This is a very polarizing issue and there’s kind of no middle ground with it.”
The school began these conversations two years ago and COVID-19 brought them to a halt.
However, just a few weeks ago, the district’s school board hosted an hour-long meeting dedicated entirely to the community debate over the name.
Tune in to the Community Meeting right now and be a part of the conversation about our mascot, the Redskins: https://t.co/YIWxpHwMiR
— Cuyahoga Heights Schools (@CUYHTS) June 30, 2021
Opinion appeared split among the speakers, with some calling the name offensive, while others defended the legacy of name the which spans about 80 years.
“It’s not honoring native people,” Connelly added. “Clearly these mascots need to change. If you care about the well-being of your students, if you care about making it easy to make your non-native students make good choices so they don’t don the headdress, they don’t put on the war paint. It’s quite detrimental to our indigenous youth.”
It’s still not clear if or when a name change will occur at Cuyahoga Heights Schools, but Evans argues no matter what, the heart of the school will stay.
“This generation of students look at it a little differently, and people nationwide look at it much differently than they used to,” he said. “It’s not about changing the past or making anyone feel embarrassed about our past. It’s about moving forward and doing the right thing as a district.”