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CALUMET TWP. | The issue of using Native Americans as mascots and images in sports has long been debated with some terming the practice offensive.

However, numerous Indiana schools and teams use Native American mascots. They say it's a way to honor the nation's 19th state, which was once inhabited by Indian tribes for thousands of years.

One of the most common nicknames for Indiana high school teams is the Warriors, ranking at No. 2. Calumet High School in Lake Ridge Schools uses the nickname.

The issue of school mascots came up for discussion recently with the Lake Ridge School Board in Calumet Township and in Portage Township Schools in Portage.

Rick Lowe, Lake Ridge board president, wants to see the Calumet High mascot, affectionately known as Chief Wahoo, back on the school's sign. 

Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley said the mascot on the school's front sign was taken down more than two years ago when contractors were doing renovation work around the building. However, the mascot is evident throughout the building, including at the entrance on floor mats.

With the exception of School Board member Annette Wells, who told fellow board members that putting an Indian mascot back on the building might be offensive to some people, no one disagreed with Lowe.

Calumet Principal Tim Pivarnik said he has never had any resident complain about the signage. He said they've made a template of the original sign, using exterior grade wood, and a group of students will paint it. Pivarnik said the mascot will be hung on the Ridge Road side of the building. He hopes this will be done before the end of the year.

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In Portage, Superintendent Mike Berta said he sees the Indian mascot, with the head of an Indian chief in steel in front of the high school building, as a tribute to a heroic group of people, but he adds, "I guess others can see it differently."

A few months ago, Portage School Board member Cheryl Oprisko expressed concern at a board meeting the symbol might not be appropriate.

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However, Berta said he thinks the mascot is pretty cool. "It's on some of our stationery, and a facsimile of it is in front of the building. I have never had anyone in my 39 years in Portage make any statement of concern about our Indian mascot being offensive to anyone. Just the opposite, in fact. The Indian mascot has always been one of respect and pride for students and employees," he said.

Chris Kaufman, a spokesman for the Indiana High School Athletic Association, said the association believes it's up to an individual school system and community what mascot to choose. He said the association is not a legislative body and has no mascot restrictions.

Michelle Stokely, an assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, said she believes that among Native Americans there is a general feeling the Indian mascots and images in sports are inappropriate.

"However, tribal people believe there are so many more issues to think about that they don't waste a lot of time thinking about that," she said.

Stokely said the emphasis on warriors or warriors winning a battle are issues. She said it's usually something aggressive and it doesn't reflect the diversity in every society, which includes things like arts, religion and family life.

"It creates the sense that Indian people are a thing rather than a diverse, broad society," she said. "So you have this character or cartoon figure of an Indian that diminishes the overall quality of a society. One of my classes discussed this recently. Indians are only 1 percent of the U.S. population. That's a small number that doesn't assert political or ethnic power the way larger groups do." 

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.