Okemos High School hopes change of Native American logo is embraced

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By Patrick Mullen
Meridian Times staff writer

Over the past decade, schools throughout the state of Michigan have been changing their Native American school mascot.

Okemos High School switched their mascot logo a few years back and is trying to officially move on from the Chieftain Head to the Okemos “O” in the upcoming weeks.

“We are in the process (of a new logo),” said Christine Sermak, principal of Okemos High. “At our next board meeting, I will be presenting to our committee, standardizing our logo.”

Sermak went more in-depth than just the idea, though.

“I can give a sneak preview,” Sermak said. “It is similar to the Oregon ‘O’ with script through it similar to the Kansas City Chiefs.”

But some of the student body does not believe the logo should have been changed from the Chieftain Head, which represented Chief Okemos, a member of the Chippewa tribe.

“I mean we are honoring Chief Okemos by being the Chieftains,” said Josh Robison, a senior at Okemos and varsity athlete.

“I took pride in wearing the Chieftain Head on my chest because I knew I was not only playing for Okemos High School, but Okemos as a whole,” Robison added.

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Tyler Bailey, a sophomore at Okemos, is indifferent on the mascot issue.

“Chief Okemos was the tribe leader (of the Chippewa Tribe) so I thought it was meant out of respect,” Bailey said.

“I do not see the big deal though because we are still the Okemos Chieftains, we just lost the logo,” Bailey added. “The center court for basketball used to be the Chieftain Head and we had to change it to the “O” so that could be upsetting to some.”

Another interesting part of the Okemos logo change seems to be the timetable on the logo switch.

Some students and community members seem to say it switched a few years ago. Others, however, said the process of the logo change has been occurring for “at least seven years.”

Cydne Robinson, a junior at Okemos and varsity softball member, said she thought it was two years ago.

“I think it was freshmen year, but they really started enforcing it my sophomore year,” Robinson said. “We weren’t allowed to put it (the Chieftain Head) on any uniforms or any of our sweats that we would buy anymore.”

There does not seem to be an exact date on the original logo change, but one thing’s for sure: Okemos High School is currently promoting a new logo to represent the school.

According to Sermak, the new look “O” will cover all sports and represent the entire school. Previously, different variations of the “O” were being used.

Sermak hopes the school will embrace the standardized logo.

“It is more of a tough looking, non-wimpy script,” Sermak said.

Though some may assume alumni would be upset about the logo change, the principal disagrees.

Sermak said, “the new logo was designed by an Okemos High alumnus who is a professional graphic artist in New York.”

“It is still a struggle for people (the alumni), but more on an emotional level, not an intellectual level,” Sermak said.

Meanwhile, The Michigan Department of Civil Rights had no problem discussing the situation. It has dealt with many cases similar to Okemos High School’s, usually in the defense of Native American tribes.

“Most school districts are choosing to do it voluntarily (switch logos)”, Leslee Fritz, director of public affairs, said. Though, “we have been encouraging it as the department of civil rights.”

Fritz added, “We believe the evidence is very clear that the stereotyping being made is hurting the Native American students.”

Ethan Fahy, a teacher at Okemos High School, feels differently.

“I do not believe that the intention of the logo or name Chieftains was hurtful in any way,” Fahy said. “However, our intentions do not have the power to change the way it may make a certain person or people feel about it.”

Another teacher at Okemos High, Dean Buggia, says it all “comes down to perspective.”

“The logo that was being used did not accurately depict a chief from (the) central Michigan (region),” Buggia said. “I personally think it is OK to use the name, but not the image.”

These issues are occurring all over the state of Michigan, not just in Okemos. As the Department of Civil Rights deals with many cases revolved around Native American logos, it usually have the same feelings on the topic.

“I think local schools understand that alumni (and communities) feel connected to their school and a big part of that is their mascot,” Fritz said. “But we hope current teachers, students and alumni will understand that if it is hurting students, it needs to be changed.”

Sermak agrees, saying “it was a conscious effort to be respectful and have cultural sensitivity.”

As Okemos High School is trying to adapt to the changed logo, Sermak is trying to bring the city together by having a consistent design for the new one.

She hopes to succeed with that “tough looking, non-wimpy” logo to represent Okemos.

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