Native American imagery and names are all but gone among high schools in central Illinois.
The East Peoria Community High School's Raiders are the subject of dueling online petitions right now — one demanding removal of the name and Indian chief logo, the other demanding it remain.
There are Deer Creek-Mackinaw High School’s Chiefs, Brimfield High School’s Indians and Lewistown High School’s Indians. None of those are the subject of any current social actions.
But a proposal working its way through the Illinois General Assembly could impact all of them.
HB4783 — proposed by Rockford-based state Rep. Maurice West — would require schools to get written consent from a tribe within 500 miles of the school — subject to renewal twice a decade — to use a mascot linked to Native Americans.
School districts would also have to conduct school-wide programs on native culture twice each year and offer a class focusing on Native American societal contributions. Schools that do not comply with the law would be deemed ineligible to participate in state playoffs.
"Sports logos and mascots should not be used to caricaturize and misrepresent cultures," West said in a news statement earlier this year. "If the legitimate intent of a school is to honor local Native Americans, this measure provides the opportunity to secure approval from a nearby tribe."
An East Peoria sophomore, Katelyn Heyder, and her older sister, Kristin Heyder, started a petition on change.org named "Petition to Remove Racist East Peoria HS Mascot."
As of Saturday, it had 1,820 signatures. In the petition, the Heyders wrote, in part: "... The harm caused by the current mascot goes far beyond the inappropriate use of the Indigenous face, arrowheads, feathers, and headdresses as props and costumes. The intangible traditions (i.e., the 'war chant,' use of the term 'tribe,' red paint on the skin of white students, skits impersonating Indigenous people, etc.) are hurtful and offensive; they not only serve to normalize racism in the eyes of the general student population but also alienate the Indigenous populations within EPCHS and surrounding the school’s community. ..."
The sisters declined an interview request.
Meanwhile, a counter-petition, "Keep The East Peoria Raiders Mascot" has 2,624 signatures.
There are comments on both petitions from signees who say they are of Native American heritage.
It should be pointed out that petitions on the change.org site are not verified, and there's nothing to keep someone from signing either petition multiple times.
"The school board and administration received an email regarding the petition," East Peoria school board president Matt Eckberg said on the eve of the school year starting. "I know there is another petition out there that supports keeping our name and logo. It's a situation we're looking at.
"We're aware of this issue and we are going to discuss it. We understand it's a sensitive issue in society. We briefly discussed it (at an August board meeting). But we're starting up the school year, dealing with COVID protocols, all those things, and in the short term we have more critical things to do."
The next school board meeting is at 6 p.m. on Sept. 21.
THOSE DEE-MACK CHIEFS
Dee-Mack High School board of education president Steve Yarnall has been with the school for nearly 40 years as a teacher, principal and now head of the board.
The Chiefs nickname has been there a while, too. The school consolidated in 1949.
"There's a rich heritage with our name," Yarnall said. "I remember, we've had one gentleman approach the board on the subject, back in 1991. So we really haven't had any issues. We've had Native American families in our school and they never had any problems with it.
"We've discussed the house bill going through the general assembly in Illinois. We're monitoring that carefully."
THE INDIANS HAVE THE FLOOR
Lewistown High School has been undergoing a project refinishing its gym floor. The school used to have an Indian logo on its floor.
Now it's a tomahawk in the middle, approved by the school board. The school system long ago changed its letterhead and other images to a capital "L" with an Indian feather attached. The old Indian logo still exists in some places in the gym.
"Over the years we've had a couple of times when protesters showed up, but nothing in a very long time now," said Lewistown athletic director Greg Bennett, who is retiring after this school year. "We haven't had any issues with our name or logo in the community, and haven't heard from outside groups protesting it.
"The Indian logo is part of our proud tradition of trying to honor the Indian heritage, which is very significant around here.
"I've heard nothing about any discussion happening or planned in the future about changing our name or logos. To my knowledge, nothing is being discussed currently.
"I'm retiring, so hopefully the Indians name will survive another year and I'll be long gone before any of this current political stuff shows up here."
Bennett thinks the situation might work itself out in another way.
"The sensitivity to Native American usage is in our culture again, and we may have to change our name to the Buzzards or something," he said. "Chances are, some day, we're going to have to consolidate anyway with some other schools. The Buzzards, with predominantly black uniform colors — that could be pretty cool."
INDIANS SINCE 1877?
Brimfield's first high school was built in 1877, and Indians athletic director Kevin Kreiter believes the Indians nickname has been there for the duration.
The school uses a letter B with a feather attached as its logo.
"It's been our name for what feels like 100 years," Kreiter said. "We're good with who we are for right now. There's been no discussion of any issues with our nickname or logo.
"We know the issue is out there at other places, and we are aware. We are proud of our school name. It's not something anyone has expressed being offended by.
"We don't want to change our name unless someone (in administration) tells us we have to.
"Is a school name or mascot really that important that people have to worry about it?"
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.