Many UP school mascots may face legislative challenges

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GLADSTONE, Mich. (WLUC) - The Braves, Eskymos and Redmen are all once again facing stiff challenges but these aren't coming from other schools on the playing field.

Recently introduced State Senate Bill 646 would require the elimination of school mascots that are "race or ethnicity based" except under very special circumstances involving State Board of Education and Department of Civil Rights waivers that could only be obtained through a lengthy process.

And unlike many previous bill that sought the same as 646, this bill has some teeth. It would force non compliant schools to lose state funding.

For example, the Escanaba school system would lose 16.1 million in school funding if this bill would pass and they wanted to hang onto their beloved Eskymo.

The bill was introduced by downsate Senator Ian Conyers (D-4th District).

Gladstone school superintendent Jay Kulbertis has seen these challenges before.

"I can tell you that we have never had a complaint locally over how we portray our mascot."

This bill is also attempting to cover more territory than previous bills. If this bill passes it would threaten team like Viking and Patriots. Anything that someone could make an argument about it being possibly offensive could be fair game.

One thing that schools could do in an attempt to keep their mascots would be having the approval of the groups that the schools symbol portrays.

In Gladstone's case with the Braves they have gone to great lengths to work with local Native American groups. They have even submitted versions of their school logo for local tribal approval.

"We have a really, really solid relationship with the Hannahville Indian Community. We do a talking stick celebration at our commencement.
We do a drum ceremony the last day with our seniors. It's really powerful and emotional and we have a lot of participation from people from Hannahville."

Senator Tom Casperson has dealt with this sort of legislation before and feels this legislation will go the same route as previous attempts.

"I don't see this going anywhere. There is too much support out there in our communities for the mascots. They're a part of the community they're woven into the community. I just seriously don't think that anyone has ever looked at one in a disrespectful way. That has never been the intent. And I question if we're going too far with this stuff? Where does it end?"

The bill has now been referred to Michigan's Senate Education Committee.

Members of the Hannahville Native American community were contacted for this story but declined to comment with further review of the legislation.

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