For Opponents of Native American Nicknames, 2020 Brought Hope

“You can’t support these athletes protesting racism without looking at this racial slur on one of their teams,” said Maulian Dana, an ambassador at large for the Penobscot nation in Maine, who has been active in efforts to eliminate Native team names and mascots.

Of the 29 schools that abandoned Native names since the beginning of August, 11 were known as “Indians,” according to the N.C.A.I.’s database, and three were called “Redskins,” which is widely considered the most offensive nickname associated with Indigenous people. The database shows just under 800 schools that use the nickname “Indians” and 95 known as the “Redskins.”

When the Washington N.F.L. franchise, the most prominent team with that nickname, finally gave it up on July 13, the decision exposed school districts that still employed it to further scrutiny.

One of those was the Union Public School district in Tulsa, Okla. Last month, the district’s school board voted unanimously get rid of the Redskins name after 70 years. Kirt Hartzler, the superintendent of the district, and a former football coach at the high school, said that a similar motion had been unanimously voted down in 2003. But this time, he sensed a new climate of diplomacy on both sides of the issue.

“There is a season for everything, and this was the right season for this change to occur,” Hartzler said in a recent telephone interview. “Not only because of the internal forces at play, but also the external forces, what had occurred nationally. We needed to come out on the right side of this issue, and I believe we did.”

The roughly 1,900 schools (in 1,025 districts) holding out, according to the N.C.A.I’s database, include Neshaminy High School in Bucks County, Pa., which has continued to use the nickname Redskins, despite protests. The suburban Philadelphia district says it spent an estimated $435,000 on litigation to retain the name ahead of a 2019 ruling by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission that allowed schools to continue using Native names and imagery if they met certain requirements.

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