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Column

EYE ON ILLINOIS: Changing native mascots a matter of when, not if

Minooka Indians, your days are numbered.

We can’t say for sure when Minooka Community High School students will don athletic uniforms again, but it’s clear when they do it’ll be under increasing pressure for the school to change the mascot.

Favorite son Nick Offerman joined the chorus to find a new mascot, recently tweeting a link to a petition calling for change and adding: “Here’s your chance to get on the scoreboard of decency. Sign here to change the school mascot from the ‘Indian’ to something that is not denigrating indigenous folk. It’s dumb and shameful to resist this by now, unless you enjoy racism.”

Offerman — tremendously proud of his rural upbringing — rose to fame playing Ron Swanson on “Parks & Recreation,” an NBC comedy set in the fictional Pawnee, Ind., a town with a shameful history of atrocities against its native people.

Incidentally, there is a real Pawnee, Ill., where the high school mascot also is the Indian. It’s one of nearly 30 schools using that mascot in Illinois. We also have Braves, Chiefs, Comanches, Redskins, Scouts and Warriors. There used to be more — some mothballed when schools closed or consolidated, others changed — and eventually there will be fewer.

I’m not scolding, nor do I come at this from personal experience. I was a Robin, Hornet and Wildcat before choosing to be a Kohawk, which is not a real bird (but does allegedly borrow a prefix from a native language, if a professor from 1922 is to be believed). Further, I don’t live in any of the towns under a spotlight burning brighter while public sentiment shifts toward greater sensitivity.

This won’t be a rapid evolution, either, at least if we’re judging by the people I saw unironically wearing Chicago Blackhawks attire to a racial justice demonstration earlier this month.

I’m not demanding the people of Minooka or Pawnee or Morris or dozens of other towns change, only predicting they will.

Chief Illiniwek has been retired as an official symbol at the University of Illinois since 2007. The Peoria Chiefs baseball team in 2005 shifted from native iconography to that of a Dalmatian in a firefighter uniform. Bradley University remains the Braves but hasn’t used Indian imagery since 1992. There are myriad other examples.

Some states have already banned native mascots and icons in their schools. That movement gained some steam in Illinois after Hononegah High School students in Rockton protested the tradition of a student dancing while dressed as an Indian princess. In February state Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, proposed amending state law by requiring schools to get written contest for native mascots from tribal officials.

Ron Swanson wouldn’t care, but Nick Offerman does. He’s far from alone.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at [ mailto:sholland@shawmedia.com ]sholland@shawmedia.com.

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