Fayetteville school board and staff / Courtesy, Fayetteville Public Schools
Both junior high schools in Fayetteville will select new mascots in the coming months, following the recommendation of a committee tasked with examining the issue.
The Fayetteville School Board last fall voted to form a task force to examine the Woodland Cowboys and Ramay Indians mascots. The groups determined the current mascots do not align with the district’s mission and vision statements, which call for the creation of an inclusive and safe environment for the district.
The task force, made up of key stakeholders and students, made their recommendations for a process to select new mascots, and a timeline to announce the changes at a school board meeting held April 25.
The group recommended that both schools keep their current colors of red for Ramay and blue for Woodland, and immediately begin minimizing the use of the Cowboys and Indians mascots, concentrating instead on using the “W” and “R” from the school names on any newly ordered printed materials.
The task force also determined the new mascots will not use any human imagery or symbols associated with culture, nationality, race, or ethnicity.
The group outlined a timeline to select a new mascot this fall. Both schools will select a committee made up of three school staff members, a principal, two alumni current in high school in 9-12 grade, two eighth grade students, two seventh grade students, two parents, and one member of the original task force to select the new mascots.
The schools will submit an all-call for mascot suggestions Aug. 15 through Sept. 15. After that, the mascot committees for both schools will review the submissions, and narrow them to down to five (preferably three) choices for each school by Oct. 15.
The finalists will be put out for a vote, and the mascot for each school with the most votes by students and school employees in the election will be selected as the winners.
The new mascots will be announced on Dec. 1.
The schools have been known as the Cowboys and Indians on the athletic fields since they both opened more than 50 years ago. According to a Northwest Arkansas Times story from last fall, Fayetteville superintendent John Colbert said it was a student who most recently brought up concerns about the mascots, though board president Justin Eichmann added that multiple students, parents, and district employees had expressed concerns about the mascots in recent years.
The National Congress of American Indians have been working to stop the use of Indian terms and culture for the purposes of sports mascots.
“The intolerance and harm promoted by these “Indian” sports mascots, logos, or symbols, have very real consequences for Native people,” according to the NCAI website. “Specifically, rather than honoring Native peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuate negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples, and contribute to a disregard for the personhood of Native peoples.”
As a result, according to the NCAI, no professional teams have established new mascots that use racial stereotypes in their names and imagery since 1963, and “two-thirds or over 2,000 “Indian” references in sports have been eliminated during the past 35 years.”