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Native Teens Protesting Sisseton School Nickname

Watertown Arrows fans didn't like us outsiders talking about the cultural misappropriation inherent in their homecoming activities. Now some Dakota students who attended Sisseton public schools but switched to Tiospa Zina to get away from racial prejudice are saying Sisseton's team name (the Redmen) and homecoming activities offend their cultural identity:

A group of female American Indian basketball players in Roberts County are working on a cause that their grandparents took up more than 20 years ago.

Tate, Mahpiya, Fidelity and Persephone Eastman, along with a few of their friends, hosted a rally this week asking the Sisseton School District to change the name of its team and logo from Redmen [Katherine Grandstrand, "Teens Rally for Name Change," Aberdeen American News, 2015.02.06].

A relative of the girls recalls cultural misppropriation in Sisseton's homecoming activities that sounds very similar to Watertown's:

LeeAnn Eastman said that when she went to high school in Sisseton, she had similar experiences as her daughters and nieces. Because of the way she was treated at Sisseton, she said she transferred to Tiospa Zina.

“I couldn’t handle that,” LeeAnn Eastman said. “You just feel lower, like you’re below them, like you’ll never be as good as them.”

The nickname isn’t the only issue. The way the American Indian is used at school events, like homecoming, is also problematic, LeeAnn Eastman said.

“They crown a chieftain and a princess, and they put on a headdress. The girls braid up their hair, they put paint on their face,” she said. “I haven’t seen it since I was really young, but I know before, they did mock ceremonies. They mocked our ceremonies. ... That’s how we pray” [Grandstrand, 2015.02.06].

The girls organized a protest of the Redmen name before Tuesday's basketball game between Tiospa Zina and Sisseton. The Sisseton superintendent appears to find First Amendment exercise incompatible with physical exercise:

Some people didn’t like that the protest took place before a girls’ basketball game, Sisseton School District Superintendent Stephen Schulte said. It affected not only those in attendance, but the game itself, he added.

“They have an opportunity to come to school board and make suggestions, and the board can act on that,” Schulte said. “But at this point in time, recently, they haven’t done that. They’ve done it in the past” [Grandstrand, 2015.02.06].

Hmm... if a group is aggrieved by a sports team's name, it seems to me the most appropriate place to raise awareness of that grievance would be at an event where that name is being chanted and trumpeted the most loudly. But then, what do I know about basketball?


  1. happy camper 2015.02.06

    Why not change names to race neutral in all public schools and be done with it. The public response is often the names are historical or part of school heritage. While that may be true it's just a name, but one that continues to offend. I doubt many kids over the years have really tried to mock NA ceremonies, but the schools can come up with a new name, new costumes, and create a new school heritage. I'm looking forward to the day none of this friggin matters, but that seems to be a long way off.

  2. larry kurtz 2015.02.06

    estelline is still the redmen, too: init?

  3. mike from iowa 2015.02.06

    They have an opportunity to come to school board and make suggestions, and the board can act on that,” Schulte said. “But at this point in time, recently, they haven’t done that. They’ve done it in the past” [Grandstrand, 2015.02.06].

    They've done it in the past to no avail. Maybe it was time to try something different to get your attention,sport.

  4. Brett 2015.02.06

    I too thought the Superintendent's comments were strange and off-base. I guess they could have quietly gone to the school board and quietly been ignored. Having a public event helps get people to have a public discussion of the issue, which is most likely necessary before any change is going to occur. From the description in the article, they didn't disturb the actual basketball game. Not sure why anyone would have a problem their actions.

  5. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.06

    I keep thinking that the time will come when any group with a mascot willingly figures this out spontaneously. (I'm thinking of You, Washington slurskins. And You, Cleveland ethnics. And You, Atlanta cowards.)

    "Wolves" is always good. There are no wolves in the MLB or NFL. Besides, my grade school and college mascots were Wolves.

    I like the Sisseton Storm. Alliteration is always catchy.

  6. crossgrain 2015.02.06

    I believe Woonsocket are also Redmen. Woonsocket Moon Rockets would be a definite improvement.

  7. Lynn 2015.02.06


    I'm a little confused on their status. Isn't Woonsocket now combined with Sanborn Central over at Forestburg at least for athletics? Woonsocket used to be the Redmen. Sanborn Central used to be Rebels and now depending on the sport they are all now the Blackhawks? Football involved Wessington Springs.

  8. crossgrain 2015.02.06

    Lynn - could be. I was just looking at their SDHSAA listing, and they do co-op for football, wrestling and basketball. Not sure about volleyball, track, golf, etc.

    Castlewood also comes to mind - nickname is Warriors, but I'm pretty sure the mascot for that is a Native American in a head dress.

  9. grudznick 2015.02.06

    I don't have a question on Sisseton basketball, but I wonder if it was any of these young ladies working at the capital answering phones for the legislatures when some libbies called and swore at them. I, for one, am outraged about people swearing at kids (or throwing beer of course.)

  10. Tasiyagnunpa Livermont 2015.02.06

    Change the name(s).

  11. mike from iowa 2015.02.06

    I must confess I am a Cherokee,iowa Brave-class of 1971. I don't recall any Indian type mascot. The town used to promote itself with a businessman dressed up in buckskins and long hair with feathers. Old Cherokee Charlie,but that was discontinued decades ago. Along this same line I chafe at wingnuts calling themselves humans,too.

  12. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.06

    West Junior High in RC was the Warriors with an Indian head symbol. They changed theverything name in the 1980s, I think. I wonder if teams like Braves, Warriors, Chiefs, etc., could just change the images accompanying the name.

  13. happy camper 2015.02.06

    When my fellow white folk used to claim Indian names as meaningful to them it felt misplaced, but you can look at it a different way. Kind of like Honda and Kawasaki motorcycles feel more average American than Harley Davidson. It may have meaning that people have fond attachments, even if "only labels", to things that aren't native to them. They can relate to it.

  14. Roger Cornelius 2015.02.06

    During the Watertown mascot debate a few months ago, someone kept repeating something like, "why can't Indians understand that team names and pageants are honoring them"?

    Fair question I suppose, but the same question could be asked of them, "why can't white people find team names to honor them"?

    Flandreau Janklow's? Pierre Rounds'? Well you get the idea.

  15. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.06

    I'm waiting for team names like the Whiteys, Blondies, Norskies, etc. We do have the Vikings and the Irish. I know! The Limeys, the Frogs, the Krauts! How's that?

  16. larry kurtz 2015.02.06

    The Estelline Plowboys, The Eureka Crackers, the Watertown Carp, The Wessington Springs Tornadoes....

  17. happy camper 2015.02.06

    Why not the "The Queers?" You fail to understand these names were not meant as derogatory but I'll slap you around if necessary.

  18. Roger Cornelius 2015.02.06

    That's the whole point, these names and mascots were not meant to be derogatory, but they are.

  19. CLCJM 2015.02.07

    I agree with you Grudz, that no one should be swearing at children, let alone pouring beer on them to calling them racial slurs. But a message had to get to Cory Brown and the Republicans that have no respect for others...which is actually what this thread s about...a total lack of respect. And the principal couldn't understand why the students and parents quit going to the school board with this? Because nothing changes!So they tried a demonstration! Something that gets more attention and in the atmosphere right now, maybe it will get some action!
    By the way, I saw something in another post that a nsyive boy at that game was cornered in a bathroom and beaten up. And he was the only one disciplined for fighting. And a FB posting appeared to indicate it was planned! Did anyone else hear about this??

  20. happy camper 2015.02.07

    A remedy here (and other places) is needed, but some commenters on this blog embrace victimization, seek validation and encourage it to the point much of what they complain about becomes self perpetuating. Your prism will become your prison after a while you know.

  21. larry kurtz 2015.02.07

    thank you doctor psychology.

  22. Tim 2015.02.07

    camper, you mean like the right wing prism you are trapped in?

  23. Lynn 2015.02.07

    Happy Camper

    Can you explain a little further and use a few examples?

  24. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.07

    Larry, I like your mascot names best!

  25. mike from iowa 2015.02.07

    From the mini-series 1915,Aussie blokes called Krauts-sausage eaters. Brits called them Huns.

  26. mike from iowa 2015.02.07

    Wingnuts refer to the French as surrender monkeys. They refer to the poor as welfare queens. They refer to themselves as god fearing,misunderstood,taken out of context victims of left wing hate media.

  27. mike from iowa 2015.02.07

    Roger C-Watertown post was September,23,2014. Why not refer to wingnuts as the Pierre ethics and rule violators and cover-up squad?

  28. mike from iowa 2015.02.07

    Japanese motorcycles were referred to as "rice burners" when I was growing up. To be kool one had to ride any Harley Hog not made by AMC or an Indian.

  29. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.07

    You are funny Mike.

    I understand that most people who might describe themselves as conservative are not far right wing nuts. For those who are, and their legislators, let's keep it simple:

    The Kochs!

    Now the difficult question. What does the mascot's costume look like?

  30. mike from iowa 2015.02.07

    Since kochs is pronounced(officially) cokes,we could use a korporate coke can-it is recognized and despised around the world. However, it may be more meaningful to use a banana(as in banana republic). South and Central America remember all to well how ruthless and domineering the United Fruit Company was. And the koch bros seem to banana republicanning "murica.

  31. grudznick 2015.02.07

    Ms. Geelsdottir the Browns are named after a man named Brown. Not Jim Brown another Mr. Brown. Surely you can't insist l the Whites, Browns, Blacks and Geelsdottirs out there change their names too.

  32. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.07

    Grudz, I know about Paul Brown and also why, when the team moved to Baltimore, they had to change their name to Ravens.

    I want every single team named Geelsdottir to keep that name. Their mascot is a gorgeous, black haired, brown eyed, brilliantly smart, fantastically wise, kind, gentle and, oh yes,fantastically wealthy, woman.

    Lest I forget, those Geelsdottir teams must pay me royalties for every event.

    I believe that settles the entire mascot issue, does it not?

  33. mike from iowa 2015.02.07

    I 'll go along with Deb's plan. That way we can know in advance who wins all the marbles and bet accordingly. You go girl! Grudz-go stand in the corner and no gravy taters for you.

  34. CLCJM 2015.02.07

    LOL, Mike and Deb. humor is often the best way to explain lunacy!

  35. Craig 2015.02.09

    I could be mistaken, but I believe the student body of Sisseton Public Schools is now over 50% Native American (I recall 52% as a recent figure I read) and "white" students are actually the minority. Keep in mind Sisseton is on a Reservation, so this isn't unexpected although 20 years ago Natives were in the minority so times have changed.

    That said, the school administration, school board, and body of teachers are still primarily white - so I can see how some Native Americans would feel like it was a hostile environment.

    Either way, perhaps the Natives that are part of the school system should be the group to determine the future of the name and the mascot. They should consult with local tribal leaders and determine if they consider this to be an insult or an honor. I don't wish to speak for anyone, so I have no idea what the logo, the name, or the symbolism means to those directly impacted.

    I attended SHS and lived in Sisseton many years ago and I can say at that time nobody (white, native, or other) ever even considered the homecoming ceremony to be racist and in fact the entire experience was treated with respect and the culture was admired. However that was a long time ago - awareness has changed, people now recognize the history and the negative feelings associated with words that we may not have thought about in the past. So why not have the discussion?

    I recall that originally the name of the team was the "Red Men", and there was no association with an Indian Chief. The mascot wasn't part of it and it supposedly had no connection to Native Americans, but over time the two words were merged in to "Redmen", and the Chief logo was added (not to mock, but to honor), the homecoming ceremony was introduced, (50s or 60s) and the name and symbolism were linked. Because of that, I don't think they can ever separate them, so the idea I've seen floating around that they could return to the "Red Men" without the Chief logo or without the pageantry likely won't work.

    There is one other dynamic of this discussion that most wouldn't realize, and it is that the Sisseton Natives aren't always in agreement with the Tiospa Zina Natives. Part of it has to do with where they grew up and what they identify with, but there has been some sense of mostly friendly competition in years past almost like two small towns that consider themselves rivals when they meet on a Football field. Will that rivalry have any impact here? I cannot say, but I don't think you'll find all Natives in agreement on whether the name should be changed or not, so I'm sure this will continue to be an interesting story.

  36. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.09

    Thanks for this excellent information. I appreciate it.

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