PAW PAW, Mich. — During Wednesday night’s school board meeting, a man from the district voiced his opinion on people who choose not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
“He said that if you don’t like this country then I can help you pack,” said Monica Padula who was also at the meeting. “I did say that ‘we, speaking of indigenous people, were hear first so we’ll help you.’”
Padula thought the man’s comments were offensive and “exclusive” she said. That’s why she shouted back. However she was shocked that the school board didn’t respond. Instead they asked her to leave.
Exchanges like these have been happening for months at the Paw Paw school board meetings. Wednesday night was the most important of them all, with the committee deciding whether or not to keep the redskins mascot.
“The majority of this board has painstakingly gone through hundreds of pages of information, presented by all sides,” said Board President Karen Ayers at the meeting of 200 people. “We have gone through our notes we have taken during public participation at each meeting.”
After fours hours of debate, the board voted 4-to-3 to keep the Redskins mascot. Community members for it rejoiced. Naysayers felt otherwise.
“It was really heartbreaking to see that despite people’s testimony, despite testimony from organizations, despite showing resistance through protesting publicly, that the board did not see still that this is an issue of discrimination,” said Padula who works with the Michigan Coalition Against Racism and Sports in Media.
Padula said the term redskin is racist and antiquated. It reminds indigenous peoples of a time when their ancestors were “sanctioned by different states” to be murdered.
“It stereotypes native people but also most specifically in this case, uses a dictionary defined slur, the word redskin,” said Padula, who is of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe. “Because of the connotations of this word, as it is associated with the murder and genocide of indigenous people, that context makes it extremely inappropriate for a public school system.”
Kim Jones thinks differently. She and her husband run the We Are Paw Paw Redskins group in support of retaining the name and logo. Her home was even vandalized in response to the ongoing debate. She said they are not racist and do not use the term to be offensive. In fact, because of what Native Americans have endured for centuries, they used the term out of respect.
“We feel that we’re being bullied, that we’re being called racist but we’re not,” said Jones. “We want to embrace it. We want to honor it.”
Jones said that there’s two sides to every story. But she and her husband have taken the time to educate themselves on native american history and have even reached out to local tribes. Hundreds of other people, she said, feel the same way they do.
“There is no Indian head on our fields or courts, no chants or people dressed up as our mascots,” said board Vice President Aaron Mitchell at the meeting. “You guys did zero homework in my eyes, that severely hurts your cause.”
Padula sees the word as offensive. She hopes that what happened in the Belding School District, who unanimously voted to remove the redskins mascot name two months ago, will happen in Paw Paw. However, since they lost Wednesday's vote she said the next step is to put pressure on the state to spur them to act against discrimination.
“We have told them they can be Redskin Potatoes,” said Padula. “That would be more appropriate if they wish to keep the name redskins. But referring to a living group of people that are sharing space with them, that are sharing society with them is wildly inappropriate.”