DOWAGIAC, Mich. – There's no question that people have strong feelings about their high school sports programs. So, when the state mandates you change your mascot, it certainly gets people worked up.
On Friday, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights filed a complaint with the feds targeting four schools in our area. It wants the schools to stop using American Indian mascots, names, slogans and images or risk losing federal education funds.
Named in the complaint are the White Pigeon Chiefs, the Paw Paw Redskins, the Hartford Indian and the Dowagiac Chieftains.
From the football field to the basketball court, you can see Chieftain Pride throughout Dowagiac Union High School.
"I like wearing the orange and black. I'm proud to wear it, proud to be a Chieftain," said junior Lucas Petro. "I've grown up with this logo and the Chieftains is what we are," said junior Conner Daily.
Petro and Daily are both active in sports. They say they've never heard anyone complain about the school logo until now.
"I don't see that at all. I know people that are Native American and they never say it's offensive to them," said Daily. "Whenever I wore the Chieftain logo, we never took it in an offensive way. We always wore it with pride. We're proud to be Chieftains," said alumnus Natasha Tanzillo.
But the Michigan Department of Civil Rights doesn't see it that way. The agency wants American Indian imagery to be banned from schools, saying the mascots reinforce stereotypes and hold American Indian students back from reaching their full potential.
"It really doesn't bother me that they have an Indian logos here," said Leslie Cole. Cole says she's part Cherokee but doesn't think the American Indian mascots should be banned. "There's so many Pottowatamies in different nations up there in the state of Michigan that I think it shouldn't be a problem at all," she said. "We have grown up here in Dowagiac with that for many, many years and I cannot imagine changing it at all," added Sue Ann Stewart, a school mascot supporter.
Dowagiac Union High School is one of 35 schools listed in that complaint by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Years ago, the school actually redesigned its logo with the help of a local tribal council.