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Former Indian Mascot Booster Shares Why He Changed His Mind

Brian Bull

This week we’re launching a new series, the “KLCC Listening Tour”, which will have our reporters covering stories from across our listening area. 

Among the forthcoming stories is Brian Bull’s report on the Marcola community eliminating its mascot, the Mohawk Indians.  Bull interviewed a Marcola resident, Brandon Mattox, who changed his stance on keeping the mascot.  Bull began by asking Mattox what his mindset was early on in the debate.  

Bull:  So rewinding back to the discussions over whether or not to keep the mascot...what was your mindset early on?  Before you changed your mind?  

We’re honoring them.  And we hold it very dear to us.  And we’re proud to be Mohawk Indians.  And everybody that’s graduated from here is proud to be the Indians.  And so it’s difficult…or it was difficult...to understand...how could it be a negative when it’s an honor for us?

Bull:  What changed your mind over time?

Uhm, recently when we were having the meetings about the mascot, and the information being given to us, and the information that was given to us was pretty powerful.  A mascot is a caricature, it’s not necessarily a person.  And more so, it’s not a race. In history, they were viewed as lesser.  It’s not right. 

I went into all this very, very clear I’d dig my heels in and say, “This is unacceptable…this is our mascot, we’ve been this forever and this is not okay.” 

And I’m enlightened and understand now. If we were a brand new school starting up, in no way, shape, or form would anybody consider even using a race of people as a mascot.  It sounds absurd when you talk about, it sounds silly.  We would never start a school and choose any race or creed as our mascot.  It kind of sounds silly.

Bull:  I understand too that several local or regional Native Americans came out for these meetings and shared their thoughts.  Did you hear anything from Native Americans directly and was that a factor as well?

Uhm, it was quite the opposite. When they started speaking, it could’ve been very heated.  Those of us that were in there.  The things that they were saying.  Which was “You taught your kids to hate us, you killed us, and you were the ones who slaughtered us.”  

I understand that there’s pain involved there, and it was a time in history that was not good.  It definitely wasn’t any of the people sitting in that room unless there was a 300-year-old man there I didn’t know about.  But it was more…the right thing to do.

Bull: I also understand too that you’ve got a number of shirts that you can sell for a fundraiser?  As a matter of fact, you’re wearing one now.

Yeah, what we did is I got together with a group of friends of mine. And we went through old yearbooks, and we got a lot of ideas as to which logo the majority of people who’d be interested in this most identified with.  And this is the logo that was on the floor from the late 80s through the 90s until the school actually burned down. 

And so it was on the floor for a long time, and there’s a core group of us – which our kids are here in school, and we’re here in the community supporting the school, that really recognize this logo, and it has a lot of meaning to us.  And so this is the one we went with. 

There were others before, and the one we have on the floor now is very…it’s beautiful, but it was very intricate to put on a shirt.  It would’ve been difficult.  And so this is the one we went with, which is…very…there’s a lot of people who identify with it.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
The current gym floor at the Mohawk High School has this logo. It will be replaced within a couple months with a new mascot, yet to be determined.

Bull:  What do you hope to do with those shirts?  How many do you have?

Well, I personally put myself out there and bought 200 of them.  So I’m into them for a good chunk of money, not an outrageous amount.  We’re selling them in hopes we can raise money to replace the floor, because we have to – this summer -- sand down our floor.  It’s going to be very expensive.  The number I’ve heard, I don’t know if it’s accurate, but between $20,000-30,000 is what it’s going to take. 

And so as somebody with a lot of pride, and an alumni, I really want to help out and do what I can so hopefully we can get these shirts sold and make some money for the school district.

Bull:  Is there a particular mascot idea that’s being floated around right now?  One that you’d be supportive of?

Oh, I’ve heard lots of things. People are…right now it’s still kind of a novelty.  So people say funny stuff, and things like that.  I haven’t heard anything I’d be willing to throw out there.  We’re going to take as much input as possible from the community, and input from the students, the staff, this is a very big deal and it carries a lot of weight. 

We’re writing a page in the Mohawk High School history books. We get to decide that.  Whoever that may be.  We have to have something that’s honorable and powerful and respected.  And my ideas are going to have to come up with list of criteria and then see if anything fits the criteria.

Bull: Anything else to share before I close tape?

Nope, just appreciate the opportunity to help people understand.  I don’t want people to think…this…this is not a negative.  It’s painful, and it can be hurtful.  But at some point we just have to pull off the Band-Aid and make a decision and I think it’s the right decision to make.  This is definitely not a negative situation.  You can choose to make it a negative, but I’m choosing to look at it in positive light. 

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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