Use of Native American team names again challenged
By Reed Anfinson
For more than 30 years Benson High School has faced a challenge keeping “Braves” as its sports name. Now another attempt is being made by a few in the state Legislature to address school use Native American names.
The first time the Benson Braves and other school names were linked to Native Americas was back in the 1980s. At the time, Benson was one of more than 50 schools using names such as Redmen, Mohawks, Indians, Braves, Chiefs, Arrows, and Warriors.
Those schools also used symbols, mascots, costumes for cheerleaders and band drum majors, and school letterhead that depicted Native Americans. Opposing schools would use sports signs in demeaning ways toward the teams with Native American names when they competed.
Much of the problem was cleaned up by 2000. Many schools adopted new names and got rid of the Native symbolism.
Benson schools consulted with the late Marie Koenigs, a member of the Chippewa Tribe, on how it could best show respect for Native Americans while retaining Braves name. It led to educating not just the students and residents of District 777 respecting Native America culture and peoples, but also an effort to educate its opponents in sporting events.
Koenigs, a Benson resident, supported the continued use of the Braves name with the new steps put in place to show respect for Native American culture and people.
By July of 1989, the district had removed the Indian headdress logo from its school newsletter as well as all its envelopes and letterhead. It had also removed the large American Indian with a headdress emblem in the gymnasium.
In 2000, the school faced another brief challenge when it received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union demanding it drop its use of the Braves name. By this time, there was little left to tie the team name to Native America culture.