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Indian logo used as teaching tool
By Cara Hetland
Minnesota Public Radio
January 21, 2002
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A painting on the wall of a high school gym is setting new ground in the national debate over Indian mascots. At Sioux Falls' Washington High School, an artist has changed the Indian caricature into a three dimensional portrait of a real person. The Washington Warriors are defending this change as a way to use the mascot debate as a teaching tool.

Chief Hollow Horn Bear portrait
This is the profile of Chief Hollow Horn Bear which was recently painted on the walls of gym at Sioux Falls' Washington High School. The school replaced a previous caricature of an Indian to reflect a more realistic likeness. Washington High's nickname is the Warriors.
(MPR Photo/Cara Hetland)

Huge profiles of Chief Hollow Horn Bear are bookends to the gigantic letters that spell WARRIORS across a wall in the school gym. Despite criticism, the school continues to use his image. At Washington High, Hollow Horn Bear is a symbol - his likeness is also seen on a buffalo nickel and a postage stamp.

Principal Carla Middlen says the school doesn't have a mascot. There are no students dressed as Indians bouncing around during a game. Instead, the school has a logo. It's called the "circle of courage" - a circle with two eagle feathers, and the letters WHS in the center.

"We feel that represents what our whole educational philosophy is all about," Middlen says. "It talks about developing in young people independence, mastery, belonging, courage. Those are the things that through our curriculum, our extra-curricular activities - we really try to pull out in our young people and try to give them support in those areas."

But the change in the gym mural was not enough for Betty Ann Gross. She has filed a complaint against Washington High School with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. Gross, an enrolled member of the Sisseton tribe, has filed similar complaints against three other South Dakota schools. She wants to see all American Indian logos and mascots gone.

Washington High School
Students at Washington High School in Sioux Falls, S.D. unload dozens of oil paintings which will create a 250-foot mural in a hallway in the school. The mural shows images of Native Americans in traditional and modern situations. View a slideshow of the mural paintings.
(MPR Photo/Cara Hetland)

"When you look at that picture of the new logo up there, it's so stereotypical of what the white people see and perceive of American Indians in their mind," Gross says. "It has the black face...the flat head and the droopy eagle feathers, and also the eyes that are not even happy. That's stereotyping and to me that's offensive. It's going to come down. If it takes two years, that logo is coming down."

Principal Carla Middlen says the school won't take down the Hollow Horn Bear portrait. Instead, she's using his past and the lives of other Native American warriors as a teaching tool. Middlen says humanizing the painting helps give students and adults more about South Dakota history.

She won't cave in to the debate over mascots since she says at Washington High School, they are honoring past leaders, not disparaging them.

The gymnasium portraits are only part of a $15,000 project that will turn school hallways into an art gallery of sorts. A 250-foot mural shows images of warriors of different cultures - images that teach students a warrior is a positive image.

Student volunteers recently unloaded dozens of oil paintings from a van and a car outside Washington High School. The paintings are temporarily displayed inside the school library. Several students and teachers mill around admiring the work by artist Tammy deGruchy. Three boys like what they see, because it proves to them warriors can be heros.

Tammy deGruchy
Artist Tammy deGruchy painted the mural which is on display at Washington High School in Sioux Falls, S.D.
(MPR Photo/Cara Hetland)

"It shows you more than one warrior, too - different places in the world and different jobs," said one student.

"What I like is it has other countries where we've raised the flag," says another. "Iwo Jima, and over in the western part of South Dakota. And then we have the World Trade Center. It's not just describing our community in general, it's everyone and that's what it means."

There's a group of paintings of Native American Warriors including Big Foot, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull and Little Crow. These will be paired with scenes of prairie life, the Missouri River and Mt. Rushmore. The murals will hang in an open two-story lobby, and will be visible to anyone heading into the school auditorium.

Art War Bonnet coordinated the project. He says students will learn about tolerance from the murals.

"No matter what culture or race you come from, everybody contributes to improving our society. It's bringing people together, to have respect for one another," he says.

War Bonnet says as long as Native American images are used positively and as a way for reconciliation - they are not offensive.

But some are offended. Betty Ann Gross says she's offended every time she sees an American Indian face on a gym wall.