GM board votes to stop using Native American logo

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Just a few months after adopting a format that puts time limits on every item on its agenda, the Green Mountain Unified School District went spectacularly off the rails on Thursday night running to three hours rather than the 108 minutes outlined on the agenda. The sticking point was the high school’s mascot – the Chieftain.

Board member Abe Gross discusses one of his three motions on the mascot Images courtesy of Okemo Valley TV unless otherwise noted

Perhaps it was a bit optimistic of the board to put aside 15 minutes for “discussion/action” on a hot button topic with political overtones and that has been around for decades with impassioned people on all sides of it. But board chair Joe Fromberger waded in saying that it was an opportunity for discussion on the mascot and also an opportunity to take action.

And action is what he got. Immediately, board member Abe Gross of Cavendish moved to instruct Green Mountain High to “cease using the Chieftain head logo” for its sports teams.

Board member Julia Gignoux, also of Cavendish, said she thought it was unacceptable to keep a mascot that “polarizes and upsets our students.” Gignoux said she was did not believe in rebranding to include chieftains from other cultures and spoke against reducing any culture to the status of a mascot. She also said that it would not be possible to rebrand the name given the 50-year history of using the name along with the Native American head logo.

Board member Julia Gignoux said it was unacceptable to have a mascot that “polarizes and upsets our students”

Fellow Cavendish board member Dennis Reilly said that a mascot is “meant to unite everyone under one name and make everyone feel included…however when the same thing that’s meant to unite us separates us we as a community and leaders should seriously consider our options.”

Reilly said that the research is overwhelming that the use of Native American mascots causes psychological harm to Native American students and spreads negative stereotypes among non-Native students.

Chester board member Michael Studin said he had no affiliation with the mascot since he didn’t go to GM and his children are not in high school, but he noted that a lot of community members do have strong feelings about this.

Board member Mike Studin moved to put the question of the mascot before the district’s voters. Telegraph file photo

Saying that the community should have a say and that one third of the board is appointed rather than elected he moved that the question of what will happen with the Chieftain mascot should be put on the ballot of the districts constituent towns.

That motion was not in order since Gross’ motion was already on the floor and discussion continued with Reilly saying that if the image is the issue then rebranding presents an educational opportunity that respects the past and learns from the past without erasing the past.

Chester board member Lois Perlah said she thought it was not the time to make a decision, but rather to “open a learning space.”

The board unanimously approved the Gross motion to stop using the logo, then turned to Studin’s motion to put the question to the voters.

Board member Lois Perlah said it was not time to make a decision but rather to “open a learning space”

Reilly said this motion was the board passing the buck on a decision the board is authorized to make. Board chair Fromberger agreed that this is a board decision but also said that at the same time the motion is legitimate.

Studin said he did not see it as passing the buck, but getting more engagement from voters.

Superintendent Lauren Fierman asked if this was to get the voters’ input but not binding and Studin said the board would see how the vote should go.

“You do not vote on justice issues,” said Gross. “You make a decision that is right and the right thing is to take care of this issue this evening and not passing it off into the future.”

The Studin motion failed on a 5-4 roll call vote.

With that done, Gross moved to drop the Chieftain name from the school’s sports teams, which failed on a vote of 5 nays, 2 ayes and an abstention and then he moved to preserve the images that still exist, which might be distasteful and to respect rather than erase them and use them in an educational way. That passed on a vote of 7-2.

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  1. Jo Richardson says:

    Pathetic! Aunt Jemima, Elmer Fudds gun and countless other things like this…what is wrong with people these days?? The Chieftain mascot has been around for years,meant to show strength and honor, but now it’s not politically correct? Let history be history, we learn from it, it has shaped what are country is today!All I can do is shake my head at all the whiny people, not only in Chester, but in Vt. and the states….hell, the whole world. There is so much more we should be worried about than what to put on out pancakes! Grow up people, change things that matter!

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