Small public turnout at forum on fate of Chieftain mascot Speakers generally in favor of some degree of change

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

For what was expected to be a hot-button topic, the community  discussion of whether to change Green Mountain High School’s Chieftain mascot last Thursday night drew relatively sparse attendance. The number of those on the Zoom call peaked at 52 toward the end of the meeting but that included most of the school board members and 15 or so school employees.

While Superintendent Lauren Fierman kicked off the meeting with a plea for civility – asking attendees to “model civil discourse” for the students on the call, it did not seem necessary as the mood was fairly low key with fewer than a couple waiting to speak at any time. Often, Fierman had to prompt the crowd “Anybody else?” The majority of speakers were in favor of some degree of change.

More than 50 people attended the Zoom call including board members and school employees

Speaking as a community member, not as a school board member, Chester resident Deb Brown said she did not see the situation as “all or nothing” and pointed to the use of the word chieftain all over the world standing for honor, respect and integrity.

Brown suggested that the school “rebrand” the Chieftain without the Indigenous Peoples logo saying that “the imagery is harmful, not the word.”

Mindy Munroe agreed, saying that she is married to a Scot and in that country, a chieftain is a leader of a clan.

In fact, a number of those commenting felt that the Chieftain image was the problem not the name.

Two non-residents gave opposing views from a Native American perspective. Abenaki elder Carol McGranahan, left, spoke against the mascot while Nicholas Willis of the Native American Guardians Association said the school should keep it

But Carol McGranaghan, chair of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, who described herself as an “Abenaki person,” told the forum that the word “chieftain” is a “colonizers’ word” that reflected their need to deal with the person in charge of a native group.

“It’s not an Abenaki word, not the Abenaki culture,” said McGranaghan, noting that “leaders came and went” as the situations for leadership arose. But according to McGranaghan the Europeans were “rolling 500 first peoples together like a meatball.”

She also asked if the mascot was a symbol for any other ethnic group “would that be OK?”

Nicholas Willis, an activist with the North Dakota-based Native American Guardian’s Association, told the board that “90 percent of Native Americans support these names and images” and said that activists are intent on destroying these traditions, referring to it as “cancel culture.”

Challenged by Springfield resident Deborah Velto, who referred to Abenaki activist Don Stevens’ characterization that NAGA does not represent the views of tribal nations, Willis said his organization does not represent tribes, but individuals. Willis pointed to NAGA’s slogan “educate not eradicate” and suggested that the school get some “pow wow dancers to come over and perform.”

Velto, who recently sent a letter to the boards of GMUSD and the Ludlow-Mount Holly district saying that her son would not be going to GM for high school and he would never be a Chieftain, told the board it “should be ashamed” to be the last school in the state to have a Native American related mascot.

Chester resident Amber Wilson identified herself as an indigenous person and said that the move to drop the mascot was coming from “privileged Caucasians trying to assuage some guilt” over the way they have treated minorities rather than making meaningful changes in educating about the “proud indigenous culture this mascot represents”

Student representatives to the school board spoke in favor of a change. Greta Bernier said she wants to feel proud of her community for choosing a mascot that’s inclusive.  “It’s time to change the mascot” said Bernier.

Chester resident Cheryl Joy Lipton said that it would be impossible to separate the name from the chieftain image and used the analogy of the swastika which has ancient roots, but today cannot mean anything else but Nazism.

Cavendish resident Jen Leak agreed saying that the choice of a mascot should not be based on people’s race or ethnicity and that it would not be possible to rebrand the Chieftain.

Diane DiPalma Vullo asked how the decision would be made. Board chair Joe Fromberger said that it would be up to the school board to decide whether or not to keep the mascot and if not, how to go about deciding on a replacement. He also thanked those in attendance for expressing their opinions.

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  1. The point I keep trying to make, as an educator, on this issue is that there is a significant Psychological imact on students because of these mascots. Schools should be prioritizing the mental heath of students, period. The students at Chester are embarassed and know it is wrong to be represented this way, and they do not want to harm or disrepsect others when they are playing sports. Please listen to them, because they are right. The “lions” sound like a great idea. Also, in a school – we need to support the students trying to make positive changes like this and encourage them to participate in the Civic process – which some did at this meeting. No students came forward to support keeping the mascot.

  2. Stu Lindberg says:

    The origin of the word Chieftain comes from the early 14th century in France and England. 700 years ago! One would have to be blind, deaf and completely ignorant of history to think that this term is derogatory towards anyone of any race or ethnicity. It is a term of absolute reverence bestowed upon someone who has hopefully earned the honor through acts of courage, benevolence and protection of their fellow human beings. “early 14c., cheftayne “ruler, chief, head” of something, from Anglo-French chiefteyn, Old French chevetain “captain, chief, leader,” from Late Latin capitaneus “commander,” from Latin capitis, genitive of caput “head” (from PIE root *kaput- “head”). Now mostly poetic or archaic; in “Rob Roy” (1818) a Highland chieftain was the head of a branch of a clan, a chief was the head of the whole name. Related: Chieftainship; chieftaincy.” chieftain
    The leader or head of a group, especially of a clan or tribe.
    A captain, leader, or commander; a chief; the head of a troop, army, or clan.
    Synonyms Commander, Leader, etc. See chief.
    chieftain | Origin and meaning of chieftain by Online Etymology Dictionary
    chieftain | Origin and meaning of chieftain by Online Etymology Dictionary

  3. Sharon Jonynas says:

    “Green Mountain Lions” is the perfect name and mascot.

  4. Martha Mott says:

    Change the mascot to a mountain lion and be the Green Mountain Lions. This issue has continually come up for many years and it’s time for it to be resolved. The controversy over whether or not a Chieftan is an appropriate mascot is a great one for the classroom. Yet when kids want to dress up for school spirit day or cheer for their GM teams, they need to be able to do so freely and with gusto.