A new cultural movement rethinks mascots across the nation.
Just weeks after the former Washington Redskins changed their name to the Washington Football Team, members of the 3000-plus person Facebook group “SAVE THE MOHIGANS” wonder if Morgantown High School’s mascot will be the next to go.
Their suspicion grew when, on Tuesday, July 28, they began to report that the seven-foot-tall Mohigan statue was missing from the school’s front rotunda and the headdress logo on the gymnasium wall had been painted over. This came a week after a years-long debate bubbled to the surface again when a group of MHS students created a petition called “Change the Morgantown High Mascot,” saying the Mohigan is insensitive and disrespectful to Native American culture.
The name “Mohigan” was created in the 1950s as an acronym for the school’s then-yearbook, the Morgantown High Annual. Associating the made-up word with the name of the Mohican tribe, the school soon after adopted the “Indian” as its mascot. Since then, MHS’s head majorette has donned a red, white, and blue feather headdress, and other majorettes and mohiganettes wear fringed dresses and Native American–style feather headbands.
Another group of MHS students who claim to be Native American say the Mohigan is an appropriate representation of Native American culture and wish to keep the Mohigan as the school’s mascot. They plan to peacefully protest on Thursday at 2 p.m. in front of the school.
Here’s the rub: The actual sound-alike Native American tribe, the Mohicans, from which the school rendered its mascot, lived in upstate New York, not in Monongalia County, and the Mohican people never wore headdresses.
With more than 4,000 digital signatures, an alumna-created petition called “Keep ‘Mohigans’ as the mascot of MHS” has slightly more support than the opposing student-created petition. The alumna cites pride, history, and heritage as reasons to keep the Mohigan.
But MHS’ mascot wasn’t always the Mohigan, says Morgantown High Principal Paul Mihalko. The school’s athletic teams were once referred to as the Clydesmen in honor of the school’s longtime coach and athletic director, Arthur C. Clyde.
On July 24, Mihalko shared a public response to the petitions on social media in which he mentioned internal discussion regarding strategies to address the issue. These discussions have included local diversity leaders and WVU’s Native American Studies Program Coordinator.
“Morgantown High may well be the first high school in West Virginia to examine its identity and imagery through a diversity lens,” he says. “I think it’s totally appropriate that MHS, as one of the state’s leading high schools, be among the first to engage in this examination and candid discussion.”
Ron Lytle, vice president of the Monongalia County Board of Education, wants to put rumors of the Mohigan having been removed to rest. It was moved temporarily to refinish the floors, he says, and the gymnasium walls are getting a fresh coat of paint.
Mihalko says conversations about the mascot reflect an ongoing and much broader national discussion and anticipates they will continue among MHS community members as the new school year begins.
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posted on July 30, 2020