Green Mountain Union HS’s ‘Chieftain’ mascot up for debate at meeting

Green Mountain Union High School’s mascot name is the “Chieftain.”
Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 6:36 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - Green Mountain Union High School’s school board is revisiting a controversial decision to get rid of its mascot.

In October 2021, the school mascot, the “Chieftain,” was removed from branding because both Abenaki and non-Abenaki community members alike agreed it was harmful to indigenous culture. While the name was then ditched at a January school board meeting, the decision was reversed in February to get more public opinion. On Thursday, the school board is holding a meeting to talk about a complaint by the Rutland area NAACP and Gedakina under the nondiscriminatory mascot policy, or Act 152.

Petitions are swirling around in the school district with support to keep or retire the name. “A mascot should bring people together and this obviously is not doing that,” said Luna Burkland, a Green Mountain Union High School senior, who is among a group of students advocating for change at the high school. She believes the name is harmful to Indigenous peoples and contributes to stereotypes. “Listening to the people who are affected by this issue and like it’s always because of that made me feel uncomfortable.”

Local resident Emily Burkland agrees, saying she doesn’t think it’s possible to keep the name without it being affiliated with its former imagery. “These reasons are larger than this small town that I think I’ve always felt but now it’s happening because this law, this initiative people are noticing we’re the last school in the state of Vermont with this affiliation, with a mascot that’s racially or ethnically linked,” Burkland said.

But Chieftain supporters say keeping the name is important. “I’m proud to be a Chieftain,” said Conner Miles, a senior at the school. “I’ve been a Chieftain since I’ve been a student here and I think we should keep it.”

“You gotta give on both sides,” said Roy Spaulding of Chester. “You gotta come up with a happy medium. The logo -- I could see where that, where some don’t like. But the Chieftain name being what it is in the dictionary, I feel like it’s a happy compromise.”

Act 152 allows people to file complaints against a school that the school board will then hear. The Rutland area NAACP and Gedakina said in a statement that the process is not good enough:

There is no oversight. Ultimately, the law as interpreted by AOE allows only for discussion and decisions to be kept in the hands of those unqualified to identify the racism, appropriation and denigration of people who have been dehumanized for centuries. It is imperative that stronger language be enacted in Vermont state law to prohibit any state agency from further complicating the main objective: to keep all children safe.”

The groups are circulating a petition that calls for the Agency of Education to adopt a stronger policy requiring school districts to be proactive about removing discriminatory school branding.

WCAX reached out to the eight districts in the original complaint to the Agency of Education. They are all under an Act 152 review now.

  • The Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union heard complaints last week.
  • The Missisquoi Valley School District, Vermont Commons School, Washington Central Unified School District and the Windham Central Supervisory Union say they responded out to the complainants but haven’t heard back.
Related Stories:

Abenaki tribe defends use of Swanton high school mascot

Rutland School Board agrees to ‘Rutland’ for new mascot

Green Mountain Unified School District reverses decision on ‘Chieftains’

Green Mountain Unified School District votes to lose ‘Chieftains’ name

More Vt. bills signed into law as lawmakers look back on session

School branding bill awaits action from Gov. Scott

Vt. Senate approves bill banning discriminatory school mascots

‘School branding’ bill would ban discriminatory mascots