Caption: Donna Fann-Boyle being questioned by the Neshaminy School District attorney during the hearing about the Neshaminy Redsk*ns Mascot, January 10, 2019
The hearings at Bucks County Community College went on for five days. This Friend, member of PhYM First Contact Reconciliation Collaborative, was able to attend on the fourth day when Donna Fann-Boyle (Chocktaw/ Cherokee) was questioned. Afterward, Donna responded to how she felt now that [testimony] was over. She said, “I felt more empowered by the amount of support I received. I feel like I can breathe now and that the hard part is over. The public is now more aware. I feel good about what happened during the hearings but it is still up in the air. Nothing is set in stone.”
The use of Native names, slurs, images and symbols is a stark reminder of how our communities are still colonized. Donna has persisted for over four years to educate the Neshaminy community about the true meaning of the R-word. The Conqueror Mentality: we took their land, we took their resources, we took their lives when they got in our way, we took their children and the latest version through the mascots – we take their identity and tell them what it means.
Testimony of a Neshaminy HS teacher and a community member occurred before Donna’s testimony. The teacher who advises their Student Council talked about the students coming up with a “Mr. Redsk*ins” event and didn’t say anything to them about the deeper meaning of the name. The community member, a lawyer, father of students in Neshaminy Schools, and also a coach in the community, said he knows lots of young people. He supported the greatness of the school district and saw no problems with the mascot and its effect. Though, when asked if he was aware of the meaning of “redsk*ns” he said he never did any research into the subject and saw no negative effects in the schools.
One of the more disturbing reports from the hearings was the testimony on day 5 by Stephen Pirritano, a school board member. When asked if he felt the information about scalp bounties to be true–his answer: “I’m sure it happened you know–just like any other races through history you know [have] been eradicated. My parents came from Italy. When the Africans came over went to Sicily and Italy and killed all the men and impregnated all the women, the world’s full of that.” The Spencer Phips Proclamation of 1755 spells out the details of such bounties – money paid for “redsk*ns” or scalps.
The Neshaminy School District hired as its expert witness Andre Billeaudeaux, a self-proclaimed amateur historian who wrote a children’s fictional book about how the Washington r–skins got their name. He is also the executive director of NAGA, an organization that supports the use of native mascotry and promotes harassment of natives and allies who work on changing harmful mascotry in their schools. He travels the country trying to convince school districts with Native mascots that it is to honor them. (See NAGA, http://www.naguardians.org/.)
It is remarkable that the school district is willing to spend precious educational monies to defend such an indefensible mascot. And ironic that the most vehement Euro-American community members, who say the mascot is an honor to Native peoples, are the most disrespectful to actual living Native peoples. This Friend contends that the fierce connection between symbol and identity has its roots in our Euro-American loss of ancestral territories. On a cellular level many of us long for our tribal identity and connection, long lost through early migration and or intense cultural mixing. Tragically, Native culture is very compelling to appropriate when you long for tribal identity.
Leading Native American tribal organizations condemn the use of Native mascots and many studies have shown the negative impacts. These negative impacts are also on the non-native students – increasing divisions, attitudes of superiority, and racism. Research led by psychology professor Chu Kim-Prieto (The College of New Jersey) showed that exposure to Native American team mascots, increases a person’s negative stereotyping of other races. When society condones stereotypes, youth and adults think it is okay to use other stereotypes –
which ultimately leads to more bias and discrimination.
There is a great deal of evidence about the cyber-bullying and backlash on Donna Fann-Boyle over the years: death threat phone calls and a great deal of nasty social media attacks. None of this evidence was brought up at the hearings, as it was up to the Neshaminy lawyers to bring it up, which they wouldn’t do given the negative light it would shine on the community. It is part of what the judge and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) panel [may] have to examine.
One of the lawyers for PHRC (https://www.phrc.pa.gov/Pages/default.aspx) is about to give birth and is taking maternity leave. This means that the findings will be delayed until July 1st. It will be an 11-member panel who makes the final decision.
How might Friends move faith into practice, act to decolonize our communities? If a racist mascot exists in your community, speak to the negative effects it holds over everyone – Native and non-Native Peoples alike; and/or support any CHANGE THE NAME effort, including the Washington D.C. NFL team. With Spirit, toward community unity, wonderings and comments may be shared with PhYM First Contact Reconciliation Collaborative, https://www.pym.org/first-contact-reconciliation-collaborative/. Wanishi (Lenape, thank you)