A small town in Missouri is having a big debate over a local high school’s potentially racist mascot. For years, Savannah High School’s mascot has been the Savages, a name the school has consistently coupled with Native American imagery. Now, a graduate of the school has revived concerns that the mascot is racially insensitive. The debate has split the town between those who think it should be changed and others who feel the mascot isn’t offensive.
Re-Examining ‘Savannah Savages’
The dust-up began in June when Savannah High School graduate Amanda Barr started a Change.org petition to alter the name. Barr decided to create the petition in response to the ongoing racial injustice protests throughout the nation, reports the Associated Press.
“You literally can’t miss it if you drive through town. It’s everywhere,” Barr said of the mascot. She added in the petition’s text that the mascot made her “feel ill” when she was a student.
“The Savannah Savage [was] complete with the graphic of either the older Chief-in-Headdress or the newer Brave-with logo,” Barr wrote. “Tomahawk chops at all the sports games. Students in face and body paint, wearing feathers and other native-inspired regalia as costumes.”
“To have someone at a football game dressing up in a costume, that’s kind of mocking your beliefs on land that was stolen from you,” Barr said to News-Press Now. “It just reaffirms the colonization mentality, that manifest destiny of ‘white people deserve this.'”
Barr’s petition has gained the support of many locals, including Kendra Haag, a Savannah graduate and member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas. Haag told the Associated Press that “savages is a racial slur against Native Americans.”
“Redskins, savages, squaw: those are all racial slurs,” Haag said. “And the imagery is a Native American head that plays into racial stereotypes that reduce an entire living culture to one people see on movies and what is misrepresented in media.”
The petition currently holds over 7,000 signatures towards a goal of 7,500. However, another vocal segment of the town has risen up in opposition to the change. A counter-petition to keep Savannah High School’s mascot as the Savages is also receiving thousands of signatures on the site.
“[The mascot] has been an icon for our community for as long as most of us remember,” the petition reads. “A savage can be from any race or land. You may hear it is racist… but it has no bad intentions towards anyone or any race.”
A Town Divided
As a result of the controversy, large crowds gathered at the Savannah School District’s July 14 meeting, such that it had to be moved into a gymnasium. The Maryville Forum reports that speakers at the meeting were nearly evenly split on the issue.
“This mascot does not represent me. And it does not represent you,” said Mark Kahbeah, a member of the Kickapoo tribe with four children in the district. “But it is hurtful and demeaning, to me, to my people, to family. […] You guys need to be on the right side of history.”
Many attendees, however, insisted that the mascot is not racist or offensive.
“These people — this community — is savage,” said a speaker named Cassie. “It is fierce. We are simple. We will come together as a tribe and we will brutally fight for this community and everyone who lives in it. That is what being a Savage is about.”
Many speakers also commented on the potential cost of the change, with one resident claiming costs could reach upwards of $300,000.
With the debate showing no signs of dying down, Board of Education President Stancy Bond said she expects the situation to end in some form of compromise. However, Barr still holds out hope that the mascot can soon be retired for good.
“Any positive change to where we take down the mascot and say, ‘That’s offensive’ — as a community we are learning to be better, that’s a big change that can really show students who are young and malleable in their mentality that it’s OK to change your mind,” she said. “It’s OK to say, ‘I was wrong, but I can change my mind and fix that to be a better person.'”