Canal Winchester graduate Allison Booher starts online petition to change school mascot

JACK McLAUGHLIN
lcochran@thisweeknews.com
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Canal Winchester High School is one of nearly 100 Ohio schools that feature a Native American mascot.

It's also one of many grappling with how that mascot -- an Indian chief -- is perceived and whether it should be retained or changed.

Following the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests and discussions nationwide about racism, the topic of sports mascots has received greater focus at many levels.

In Canal Winchester, a move to change the high school mascot is being led by Allison Booher, a class of 2017 valedictorian.

Booher, now a junior at Vanderbilt University, launched an online petition in June at change.org seeking to discontinue the use of the high school mascot. Thus far, it has accumulated more than 3,100 signatures.

"This summer, I ended up doing a fellowship at the Library of Congress for indigenous cultural preservation," Booher said. "I felt that it would be unjust of me to be doing this job on such a national scale without thinking of the injustices in my community."

Booher said she has been in regular contact with the Cleveland American Indian Movement and other Native American activists to get their perspectives on the issue.

"With what I had studied and everything I had learned, I felt like I couldn't ignore that we were perpetuating harmful images of Native Americans in my own community," she said.

Her push to change the mascot has not gone unnoticed by those in favor or retaining it.

Several Canal Winchester community members told the Canal Winchester school board at its Aug. 17 meeting they support keeping the mascot.

Canal Winchester graduate Jill Amos, a member of Canal Winchester City Council, said she is a member of the Cherokee Nation. She views the Indian chief depiction as a source of cultural pride.

Because of a council meeting, she was unable to attend the school board session, but her husband, David, read a letter she wrote about the issue.

"I have watched for the last few weeks as Allison Booher has tried to replace the Canal Winchester Indian chief, and I have stood by, hoping this nonsense would end," Amos wrote. "I am no longer going to stand by and watch. I consider the request to remove the Indian and the chief symbol as a personal attack on my family's heritage.

"I consider this as a form of racism -- not considering a Native American a form of strength and teamwork. Native Americans have a longstanding tradition of putting their tribe before the individual; isn't that what a team is about?"

Canal Winchester resident Kelly Noffsinger said she is a member of the Shasta Nation, and she agrees with Amos.

"Canal Winchester created a beautiful image of an Indian chief in full headdress to represent us," she said. "It is not a cartoon character; it is not taken out of context. It is an Indian chief that represents strength and resilience but also family."

Noffsinger said the district can take steps to connect with local Native Americans so students can learn from them.

"I would love to see the history of Ohio and specifically, Native Americans, incorporated back into the elementary schools as it once was," she said. "We need to educate, not eradicate."

Booher said she supports that idea.

"The goal is to create a more inclusive society for our country's indigenous people," she said. "To do that, we need to be educating our students about our country's indigenous history."

School board president Mike Krueger said he was glad to hear Amos' views.

"We're getting one loud voice from folks who sign the petition, but I keep looking at whose voice really matters -- because as a white person, my voice doesn't really matter in this scenario," he said. "I need to ask the Native Americans who live Canal Winchester, 'what would you prefer?' "

Superintendent James Sotlar said a potential mascot change is something the district and board will likely consider in the near future, but he noted they are focused on issues connected with the new school year.

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