The Talawanda School District has elected to change its Native American mascot.
At its meeting on Monday, Nov. 19, the Talawanda school board voted 3-2 to change the mascot from the “Talawanda Braves” to the “Talawanda Brave,” dropping the “s.”
The change came at the recommendation of the branding committee appointed by Talawanda superintendent, Ed Theroux. The committee presented both majority and minority reports.
The committee was comprised of members from across the Oxford community with a variety of viewpoints. Some members wanted to see the mascot change, others did not. A third group within the committee did not have an opinion either way, but expressed a desire to learn more about the issue of Native American mascots.
“We want to ensure we’re moving in a direction that’s beneficial to our students, while also not tearing the community apart,” Theroux said at the first committee meeting.
The committee had three subsequent meetings in which members discussed research pointing toward the negative effects of Native American mascots. They also talked about what changing the mascot would mean for the community. The final vote was 13-3 in favor of recommending change.
“I know there are lots of people that think the committee was stacked against the mascot from the beginning,” said the only Native American committee member, Tamise Ironstrack. “But, I take the superintendent and the communications director at their word that there were three equal groups on the committee.”
Sam Morris, a Miami University professor, presented for the majority. They recommended the school board change from the plural “Braves” to the singular “Brave.”
“Adapting to ‘Talawanda Brave’ retains many of the values and traditions of our District’s Members,” the majority wrote in their report. “Community members have repeatedly expressed the view that the District’s brand represents virtues like bravery, courage, honor, and fierceness. All of these virtues and connotations can be retained without the continued use of Native American imagery.”
The majority also recommended that Talawanda introduce more Native American education into the school district’s curriculum.
The district currently has a Native American unit for students in the fourth grade, but nothing beyond that. Both the majority and minority reports expressed that students could be introduced to and educated more about Native American culture.
Bonnie Norris, an Oxford community member, presented the report from the minority. That report recommended the Braves mascot/logo should not be changed. The primary concern the minority report cited was that any decision made would only reflect the thoughts of the 16-member branding committee and not the community at large.
The minority report was also concerned about finances, specifically, the change from “Brave” to “Braves” would require updating places where “Braves” is used in athletic facilities. Replacing the turf on the football field would cost an estimated $450,000.
The majority report addressed these concerns by calling for the school district to pursue grants to cover the costs of adapting the branding to the change.
In addition to financial concerns, the minority report cited work from the Native American Guardians Association (NAGA), a group that favors the use of Native American mascots that are respectful and accurate.
The majority expressed concern about NAGA in its report, saying that a letter sent to the district from NAGA lacked proper sourcing, peer-reviewed research and a general lack of evidence for its claims about support for these mascots among Native Americans. Several community members also voiced concerns about the organization at the school board meeting.
“It’s problematic because you present the two sides as equal when they’re not,” Ironstrack said. They bring the scholarly research into question without any evidence, and they don’t represent the rest of [the Native American] community.”
This is the third time in the past 10 years that the mascot has been brought up for debate, but the first time action has been taken to change the mascot..
In 2010, the Oxford chapter of the NAACP and Oxford Citizens for Peace and Justice advocated to change the mascot and logo. The logo at that time was a profile view of a war-painted, red-skinned Native American.
After months of debating and studying the issue, the school board opted to not change the mascot at that time.
Holli Morrish, Talawanda’s director of communications, said the board concluded that the Brave mascot had been chosen to connect the schools to the history of the region.
The mascot was up for consideration in 2012 and the district considered several designs and ultimately settled on the current logo: a red Talawanda “T” overlaying a blue silhouette of a Native American head.
Given the controversy surrounding the issue, Ironstrack and others suspect that community members could try reversing the decision at the ballot box. Three of the five members of the Talawanda school board are up for re-election next year, and two of them voted to change the mascot.
“It’s totally possible that people will hold on to this and try to make change in the future,” Ironstrack said. “But it’s my hope that people will see why this was done and that it’s the best decision for everyone in the district.
“I think we can all admit that not all traditions are worth preserving.”