After 75 years in use, Union Public Schools is retiring its mascot.
The Union board voted unanimously Monday night to stop using a racist slur for Native Americans and Native imagery. Superintendent Doctor Kirt Hartzler has been with Union since 1986 and saw a previous effort to abandon the mascot derailed by concerns the push was coming from groups outside the district.
Hartzler said that changed a couple years ago.
"I think we had hit a point in time where the mascot was serving to divide us more than uniting us as a Union body, and that was becoming concerning for me," Hartzler said.
Shagah Zakerion spearheaded Union United for Change, a group of more than 1,200 alumni, parents, students and teachers that pushed for the district to drop its mascot. She said there’s been a change in perspective.
"You know, I don’t think the district has ever been disrespectful to Native people. I think we’ve always viewed this as a very honorable thing, but the bottom line is using a stereotype to represent an entire people is not respectful, period," Zakerion said.
Research indicates Native American mascots cause increased stress and depression in Native youths and get in the way of them finding their cultural identities.
A 35-member committee including representatives of the Muscogee (Creek) and Cherokee nations reviewed the mascot issue for two months before making its recommendation to the Union board. Union will proceed without a mascot for the time being.