Anderson High School Maiden Paige McKnight kneels at center court before the Anderson vs. Marion basketball game.  Don Knight/The Herald Bulletin file photo
Anderson High School Maiden Paige McKnight kneels at center court before the Anderson vs. Marion basketball game. Don Knight/The Herald Bulletin file photo
ANDERSON – Paige McKnight, the Anderson High School senior who has most recently represented the Indians as a mascot, said it may be time for the school and district to revisit this symbol.

“I loved being mascot, but I do understand that it may be time to switch it out,” she said.

Her comments are in response to the news that the governor of Maine signed a law Thursday prohibiting the use of Native American symbols as mascots at public K-12 schools, colleges and universities. The law was introduced at the request of Maine tribes who said being used as a mascot was “a source of pain and anguish.”

It’s part of a larger nationwide discussion that has taken place over the past several years, especially in regard to professional sports teams, such as the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins.

The conversation also touches on millennials’ concerns about what they call “cultural appropriation,” a subject that tends to arise around Halloween when some decide to wear costumes representing people from cultures to which they do not belong.

“Although I do fully respect and love my school, I do feel like it’s time to come to terms with the cultural appropriation of the Native American culture,” McKnight said. “Our school was founded from an Indian man himself, but the people who are elected to be mascot are not of Native American descent. My late grandmother was a full-blooded Native American herself, and I can fully imagine the offense she would find in our mascot.”

However, McKnight’s grandfather, Madison County NAACP chapter President James Burgess, said he believes a total prohibition goes too far. He said his family believed it was an honor for McKnight to be named the high school's Maiden.

“I, personally, beg to differ. I differ because some of these changes, I feel, when it comes to symbols and mascots, it’s in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “I know some people are still trying to find some ways to atone for some wrongs that have happened to a culture.”

Burgess said he believes the distinction between something that is offensive and something that is not is the intent of the individual engaged in the action, speaking the words or wearing the dress.

He said things become offensive when they strike fear and terror into the hearts of those whom they are trying to bully, such as the use of the Confederate flag. Symbols aren’t the problem but the denial of equal opportunity in housing, education and work is, he said.

“You cannot legislate people’s attitude or even their intentions. We don’t want this country to turn into that,” he said.

Neither Burgess nor Anderson Community Schools Superintendent Timothy Smith are aware of any complaints in regard to the AHS Indians mascots.

And Smith said he believes the district is on the right side of history in that regard.

“Ours was founded on Chief Anderson, named after the city, and I would think that gives us a lot of support to maintain the integrity,” he said. “I think that everything that our sports teams and uniforms have done have been integral to respect.”
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