Residents show support for Unionville Indian

By JP Phillips, Staff Writer, The Times

PENNSBURY — Approximately 70 people attended the Unionville Chadds-Ford School District board meeting, with many showing their support for the current Unionville Indian name and logo.  Most appeared to be part of an organized group called “Save the Indian Coalition of UCFSD Residents.”

According to a letter emailed to Superintendent John Sanville and all board members dated March 14th, the Coalition requested permission to make a 15-minute formal presentation during the meeting, with additional time for informal comments.  (Board policy allows for a maximum 3-minute comment on non-agenda items at the end of the meeting.)

Since this request was denied, members of the group took turns reading the presentation during the usual “residents comments” section.

The Coalition’s presentation was mostly about the rights of citizens to free speech, even though some listeners might find that speech offensive.  When something is said that is perceived as offensive, others may try to stifle those comments via insults or shouting them down (the heckler’s veto).  This limits the opportunity for everyone to have an open and honest discussion regardless of opinion.

Based on the recent negative comments on social media directed towards both the students initiating the Indian discussion and community members opposing any changes, it appears as though a type of heckler’s veto is being used by both sides.

According to the Administration, students began discussing the Indian mascot last year and formed a formal group called “The Identity Council” in December.  The Coalition feels that they are being shut out of that conversation, and requested the district form a Citizen Advisory Committee on this issue.

That request is denied at this time.  With his opening remarks (linked at the end of this article), Board vice-president Vic Dupuis assured the community that no decision is being made, and it is too early to get the community involved.

One community member disagreed, saying that changes have already been taking place.  For example, the Indian head art that used to be on the gym floor is gone, as is the Indian head logo on sports jerseys and spirit-wear.  Recently gone also is the “chop song,” performed at sporting events (also known as the tomahawk chop by Atlanta Braves fans).

It was clear that the community members who spoke did not see the Indian name or logo as derogatory to the Lenni-Lenape people or anyone else; rather, it is viewed as an image of strength and courage and should be honored.  According to a survey initiated by the Indian Post early in the year and publicized through the Unionville High School Alumni Facebook page, 71% of responding alumni supported keeping the Indian “mascot.”  The survey plus essay responses can be accessed at the end of this article.

One resident summed up the feelings of many.  “It’s part of the community–it went back forever.  It’s how we identify ourselves.”

After the meeting, the Times requested a statement on any communication between the Administration and the Lenni-Lanape Tribe.  This was Sanville’s response:

“Over the years we have had contacts with the Lenni-Lenape Tribe.  This dates back to before I joined the district in 2007. Though because they are in Oklahoma, they have been by phone. In any event, they have provided guidance as to how we can honor them in a respectful way. They have indicated that certain icons and rituals do not respectfully honor them.  They have stated that they are not a mascot, but people–and recommended that we could keep the Indian name but use a turtle or wolf as the mascot–both important animals to the tribe.

“They have also agreed to work with our students to provide guidance and information as they discuss the matter. Below is a statement from the tribe that provides further detail.”

Sanville included a statement from the Confederation of Sovereign Nanticoke-Lenape Tribes sent last month to a UHS community member and shared with him, excerpted here:

“The Confederation of Sovereign Nanticoke-Lenape Tribes is an intertribal union of the two historically and genealogically interrelated tribal communities of Nanticoke and Lenape people remaining in the region of the Delaware Bay.  We hope this statement from the original people of the region may serve to provide a perspective from those most affected by the use of such team names and team mascots. We hope this will help to educate the decision-makers on the painful history of American Indian mascots, derogatory team names, and the stereotypes and psychological harm that they perpetuate.

“Schools, sporting teams, and non-Native social organizations that use American Indian imagery and tribal names all too often tend to allow it to degrade into caricature and mocking. They will often incorporate wearing ceremonial regalia or performing ritual acts and behaviors that misinform the public, disrespect sacred items, and belittle our culture all in the name of ‘honoring us.’ Our children are often subjected to having their culture maligned by school mascots and derogatory team names and are then accused of being ‘too sensitive’ if they protest.”

More resources forwarded by the Confederation are available at the end of this article.

Though the discussion of the Indian dominated the interests of many attendees, many other important items were presented at the board meeting.

The board approved the updating of the fiber optics cable and network switches to the tune of almost $482,000.  As board member Bob Sage noted at the March 12th work session, so much of education now happens over the internet.  “This is a pretty big-ticket item for us, but it is ‘essential plumbing’ for the district to operate,” he said.

Retiring Pocopson teacher Effie Barnes shares a bittersweet moment with Principal Clif Beaver, reacting to student comments.

Long-time Pocopson Elementary teacher Effie Barnes is retiring.  Principal Clif Beaver read some wonderful tributes from her 8 and 9-year old students. “You teach us in fun ways.” “You make me laugh like no other teacher.” “She is the BEST math teacher.

Two nurses, Tina Blakely (Unionville Elementary) and Stephanie Knight (Chadds Ford Elementary) received a standing ovation from the crowd for their fast and professional actions in two separate incidents that saved the lives of two students with life-threatening allergies.

The suspension policy calling for a chance for rescission for first time offenders was approved for first read, with a vote in April.  The new teacher’s contract will also be voted on next month.  Both these items were discussed during the March 12th work session.

Next Up:  Curriculum/Educational Technology Meeting on Monday, April 9th at 4:30, and then the Work Session at 7:30.  Both meetings take place in room 14 at the District Office, adjacent to the High School.

All board meetings are open to the public.  They are broadcasted live (and archived) on the UCFSD web site.

Board documents:

Board Vice-president Dupuis’ opening meeting remarks:

Indian Post alumni survey results as of their Jan/Feb issue press time and comments on the Unionville Indian:

Resources forwarded by the Confederation of Sovereign Nanticoke-Lenape Tribes:
· resources/ncai-publications/ Ending_the_Legacy_of_Racism. pdf
· home/current-news-and-info/ acetstatementonamericanindianm ascots

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