CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — Bellefonte School District has decided on the future of their school’s mascot.
The school board voted 8-1 on Tuesday night, to retire the “Red Raider” mascot which symbolizes Native Americans. Over the course of the next year, Native American imagery will slowly be cycled out of their facilities and equipment.
“We’re not saying that we’re trying to erase history, it’s just that both sides of this argument, even at a national level from groups that we heard from, have stated to us that the current image of a Native American in full headdress is not appropriate, it’s not historically accurate,” said Jon Guizar, school board president for the Bellefonte Area School District.
During the school board’s meeting, almost 30 members of the public gave comment, with majority speaking in favor of retiring the mascot. Petitions dating back to June 2020 have represented both sides and have each received about five thousand signatures.
Those in favor of retiring the mascot said it is a disrespect to Native American culture.
“They believe also that because there’s no federally recognized tribe in the area that there’s really not a possibility for, say, having something that’s more historically accurate,” said Guizar.
Others believe it is a representation of Centre County history.
“Were there Indians in this area, yes, there were,” said Kathy Evey, treasurer of Win4Bellefonte. “We have Buffalo Run… we have Mount Nittany from an Indian princess.”
The full interview with School Board President, Jon Guizar can be watched below.
The school board said they’ve heard from people of all ages, including alumni, current, and future students. Long standing residents say the mascot, school colors, and name run deep in their family roots.
“It gives our kids in our programs a sense of pride, and a sense of strength, and a sense of ‘we are somebody’,” said Evey.
By retiring the Native American imagery, the board said they’re not hiding their history, they’re demonstrating the education they’ve received.
“We’ve formed an inclusion, diversity and equity committee, sort of to begin the process of learning and growing and our understanding of the issues,” said Guizar.
They add, this doesn’t mean every reference to Native American culture will be removed.
“There may at some point be either part of the curriculum or part of a building that might be containing Native American imagery as a way of showing appreciation or learning about the history and culture, but we’ll have to see how that unfolds as time goes,” said Guizar.
After years of pubic debate, the community is still working to come to a unified consensus.
“And no, the answer to, ‘Did it change my mind?’, no, it will never change my mind,” said Evey. “But, I think there can be some favorable solutions on both sides if everyone is just willing to come together.”
The school board said they’re focused on moving the community forward.
Another school board meeting will be held on April 27 to discuss changing the name “Red Raiders.” At this time, administration is assessing how much the removal of imagery will cost.