The current discussion in Rutland surrounding the “Red Raiders” name and mascot is one that is long overdue.

I attended Rutland High from 2006-10, as did my father, who graduated in 1989. We both played multiple sports and enjoyed that experience. The only dark spot difficult to digest for both of us is the school’s mascot. We are both Native American, my father is Wyandotte (Huron) and my mother is Cheyenne Lakota. Making me 1/8th mixed tribes, I recently gained my CTB ID (Certification of Tribal Blood).

In my time spent in public education, I faced many blanketed stereotypes about my people, one in particular was that natives only existed on reservations. I was also constantly asked if I was “part Chinese.” The response was always a condescending OK and mock me by continuing to call me Chinese, as well as a sumo wrestler or make loud vocalizations mocking my people. Sumo are not even from the same culture which shows the level of ignorance I dealt with though my life.

The removal of the Red Raiders is a good move for Rutland and it can help Vermont heal the remaining Native population here. This name was born out of the 1930s eugenic movement for which the paraphrased slogan was “to build a better Vermonter” which is blatantly calling people like me unworthy to exist and procreate. This was done out of fear the Abenaki would petition for land rights like many tribes did right up until the 1950s.

This mascot was meant to romanticize the wild West and reaffirm the we as “Americans” have secured the country from the “savages” mentality of only two decades previous during the plains conflicts in securing westward expansion. The name and what it stands for is not recognition of Native Americans and repentance for wrong-doing but a means to fictionalize us in modern society and marginalize our rights as Indigenous people.

With that being said, I hope people can open their hearts and minds. This is a transformative experience for me and others of Native American heritage. The mascot doesn’t hold the records, titles or legacy of Rutland High. Certainly, we athletes do hold those memories. That can never be taken away.

Mike Labelle lives in Rutland.

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