The Maine West High School Warrior mascot has to go. The logo, too.
I don’t say this casually. I’m a 1989 graduate of the Des Plaines school and still have great affection for it. As a senior, my classmates voted me the girl with the most school spirit. Seriously, they did.
The Warrior is known best for performing a ceremonial dance at pep rallies as well as football and basketball games. Each year, school administrators choose a respected, responsible student — I think it’s always been a boy — to portray the Warrior. He wears a headdress and other gear to resemble a Native American.
The school wrongly appropriated the Warrior mascot in 1959 when it opened. Back then, people were insensitive to the history and plight of Native Americans. We’ve known better for years.
Last week, the Chicago Tribune reported that members of Native American tribes took offense to Maine West’s depiction of the Warrior after viewing images on social media. School administrators are reviewing whether to continue use of the mascot.
As I consider it now, I’m surprised it took so long for Maine West to get called out for this.
Last fall, while attending the school’s homecoming football game, a few other alums and I expressed surprise when the Warrior danced at halftime. The collective thought was, “They’re still doing that?”
The University of Illinois did the right thing in 2007 when it banned the Chief Illiniwek mascot, though it took pressure from the NCAA for the university to finally do it. The Cleveland Indians baseball team next year will stop using their grossly offensive logo.
Other high schools, downstate Pekin and Marist in Chicago to name two, changed offensive nicknames or logos decades ago.
It’s your turn, Maine West. Drop the mascot and logo. It’s possible the school could keep the Warriors nickname and find a new logo and mascot.
I emailed to Heather Miller, executive director of the American Indian Center in Chicago, a snapshot of the newer logo on the school’s website. It didn’t go over well.
“I personally find this offensive and would ask that the school get rid of the Warrior idea completely,” Miller, who is a member of the Wyandotte Nation, wrote back to me. “There are over 500 different Tribal Nations in the United States, and seeing these types of mascots portray Native peoples as being angry, hostile, and [warring] people. This does not represent the variety of histories, cultures or traditions represented by these 500+ Nations and leads to harmful stereotypes of our people.”
I don’t want my high school to be known for having an offensive mascot. It is so much better than that.
I’m biased, of course, but I think I had the best advisers and coaches in the world there. Their encouragement, advice and demands for excellence helped me become the first in my family to attend a four-year university. As a member of the cross country, track and basketball teams, I wore Columbia blue and gold uniforms with great pride.
Getting rid of the Warrior mascot wouldn’t alter the terrific experiences I and thousands of other former students had at Maine West. It would probably be toughest for Maine West alums who were chosen to portray the Warrior. It was a big honor.
“It was an opportunity for us to have some type of appreciation or respect for the original founders of our country and the struggles they went through, although the curriculum did next to nothing to support that,” Brad Raczka, the Warrior during the 1988-89 school year, wrote on Facebook. “Did I think I was really depicting the true nature of a Cheyenne warrior? No. Did it give us zit-faced teenagers some small sense of pride in our school and competitive spirit? I sure the hell hope so.”
The bottom line, though, is that Maine West always will be special, even without the Warrior mascot.
Marlen Garcia is an editorial writer for the Sun-Times.