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The Status of South Dakota's Mascots

The Status of South Dakota's Mascots

Officials with the Washington Redskins announced its retirement of the professional football mascot. The Redskins mascot has an 80 year history with the franchise. South Dakota has also had its fair share of discussion surrounding mascots recently as well.

In the past five years, there have been two key mascot changes in South Dakota at the high school level. The first was McLaughlin, formerly known as the Midgets, who are now the Mustangs, and Estelline, who just two summers ago transitioned from the Redmen to the Redhawks. Dr. George Shipley is the superintendent for the McLaughlin school district.

“The summer of 2015 is when Little People of America reached out to us. I just want to point out, that in the time when the people of our community picked midgets to be the mascot, that was an appropriate terminology for that generation. And we all know that the English language is a living language and terms change. No one says 'cup of joe' anymore for coffee, the 'bee's knees,' that used to be very famous. Or 'cut a rug,' to describe dancing," Dr. Shipley explained.

Dr. Shipley said if you look at where we are today, the entire McLaughlin community has accepted the mascot change from Midgets to Mustangs, and he believes the right decision was made.

“I'm the superintendent of the school district, but the actual school experience belongs to the kids. This is their years of high school, and school life. So for them, Mustangs is highly appropriate, and they're very pleased with it,” stated Dr. Shipley. “The whole idea, even talking about our previous mascot, never even comes up.”

One South Dakota lawmaker has tried twice and failed to make this a state mandate. This past legislative session State Representative Shawn Bordeaux sponsored a bill to prohibit any public school from using a mascot or nickname that is determined to be racially derogatory or discriminatory. Included was language that read “the use of racially derogatory or discriminatory school or athletic names, mascots, nicknames, logos, imagery, or celebrations depicting Native Americans and Native American culture is prohibited in any public-school district.”

“So I brought it about four years apart. The first time I brought the bill, I was kind of shocked actually, because it made it out of committee and I got it on the floor of the House. And when I was discussing it then, at the time, if my memory serves me, I think there were 28 schools in South Dakota," stated Bordeaux. "But they didn't really distinguish between the Indian schools, the reservation schools, the non-schools.”

Two schools that Bordeaux mentioned specifically who should change their mascot and nickname are Iroquois, who is the Chiefs, and Britton-Hecla, who is the Braves.

Another public school that Bordeaux mentioned was Sioux Falls Washington high school, who uses the Warriors mascot with Native American imagery. While Bordeaux’s opposition to these mascots is clear, those who support them have used the standpoint that they’re honoring the native heritage of the state by going with a Native American name and logo. Bordeaux doesn’t agree...

“No, no, I ain’t buying it, and they’re bull**** for saying that. It’s all, ‘we’re good, we’re doing it in a good way.’ Hey, Sioux Falls, take a look at Ben Reifel school – that’s a great story. “Ben Reifel was a tribal member. He was the only South Dakota Congressman ever elected as a Native American. He served 10 years from 61 to 71. I mean, that's a story right there. Ben Reifel middle school. So those kids are going to have to learn about this Indian, that's what their school's named after. But if we continue on with the Robert E. Lee schools, then we're not getting any better.”

Some of the exceptions that existed in Bordeaux’s bill for public schools to continue using Native American imagery or nicknames is A) a school that is on or near reservation land, B) if the school has a Native American enrollment of 50% or higher, and C) if the school is given approval by a federally approved tribe.

Bordeaux did say he’s looking at bringing the mascot conversation up again at the state government level. Whether that’s the 2021 session or not, remains to be seen.

Nate Wek is currently the sports content producer and sports and rec beat reporter for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He is a graduate of South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism Broadcasting and a minor in Leadership. From 2010-2013 Nate was the Director of Gameday Media for the Sioux Falls Storm (Indoor Football League) football team. He also spent 2012 and 2013 as the News and Sports Director of KSDJ Radio in Brookings, SD. Nate, his wife Sarah, and two kids Braxan and Jordy, live in Canton, SD.