The debate about whether Rutland High School should keep being “Raiders” will move up to the state level.
Rep. William Notte, D-Rutland, said Friday he will introduce a bill to ban use of Indigenous-American mascots, nicknames and imagery by Vermont high schools. The bills is modeled on one that took effect in Maine last year, and Notte said he plans to introduce it when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
Notte is husband of School Board Chairwoman Alison Notte, who he said has received about a half-dozen threats since the board voted last month to retire the Raiders name.
People who want to keep the name tried unsuccessfully to have that vote reverse this week, and are campaigning for a referendum to be placed on the Town Meeting Day ballot in March.
Notte said the threats were part of what spurred him to introduce the bill. “I have seen first-hand the absolutely horrible, threatening messages she has received,” he said. “When I look at this process, it’s clear there are people who want to derail it with threats of violence, with intimidation.”
In addition to the threats against Notte, board member Brittany Cavacas, who took the opposite side and supports keeping the name, has reported being spat on and called a white supremacist because of the vote.
Notte said that if officials in a community the size of Rutland have to fear for their safety during such a discussion, he wondered what it would be like in an even smaller community.
“It’s become something where heavy-lifting by the state is required because there’s too much insecurity on the ground,” he said.
At least two other schools in Vermont are nicknamed “Raiders,” but without Indigenous imagery. The Stowe High School raider is a pirate; the U-32 Raider is a knight.
There also are at least two other Vermont high schools that still use Native American imagery. Green Mountain Union High School goes by “Chieftains,” while Danville School goes by “Indians.” The latter came under discussion last month by the Danville School Board, which made no decision on changing it, but voted unanimously to “encourage the faculty and staff to freely and openly discuss the school mascot-nickname issue within the school community.”
The Maine law, which was approved unanimously by that state’s legislature, states public schools “may not have or adopt a name, symbol or image that depicts or refers to a Native American tribe, individual, custom or tradition and that is used as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead or team name of the school.”
In signing the bill, Maine Gov. Janet Mills said the government worked with that state’s Indigenous communities and had “heard clearly and unequivocally from Maine tribes that (the mascots) are a source of pain and anguish.”
In Vermont, leadership of the Elnu Abenaki tribe, headquartered in Jamaica, has come out against use of Native American imagery for sports teams.
“(A)s a person with a vested interest in this mascot debate, this mascot does not represent me,” Elnu Abenaki member Melody Brook wrote in a letter endorsed by the tribe’s leadership during discussion of a Native American mascot at a Massachusetts school in 2017. “It does not honor me. It is an affront to our people.”
Rutland High School formerly went by “Red Raiders” and used a picture of a Native American chief as a logo, but those were retired several years ago in favor of “Raiders” and an arrowhead logo. The latest effort to remove both came from a group of student and alumni, led by an Indigenous-American alumna, who said the remaining Indigenous trappings were still racially offensive.
This has been met with pushback from residents who deny the name is offensive and have declared the attempt to change it is an attack on the city’s culture.
Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland County, the senior member of the Rutland County Senate delegation, said he would have to see the text of Notte’s bill before saying whether he would support or oppose it if it got to the Senate.
“I think I at least support the folks who’d like to have a further discussion,” Collamore said.
Collamore said his son was an RHS graduate who wore the Raider jersey and that he saw a lot of lawn signs in the city that appeared to support keeping the name.
“If you’re talking about a situation like the Washington Redskins, that’s a little more pronounced in its meaning,” he said. “Raiders — to me, I don’t know what it implies. I think (Rep. Notte) is right to introduce whatever he likes. I don’t know how much traction it’ll get.”