Student could be the first to challenge school nickname under new law
A Mukwonago High School student could be the first to challenge his school's Native American nickname under a new state law.
Rain Koepke, a senior at the school, told the local newspaper that he plans to file the complaint as soon as he learns exactly how and where to do so. The school uses the nickname "Indians."
Ironically, the story first was reported in the Mukwonago Chief newspaper.
The bill, signed recently by Gov. Jim Doyle, allows residents to file a complaint with the state school superintendent if their school district uses a race-based team name, nickname, mascot or logo and they believe the name promotes stereotypes.
If a hearing determines the use promotes discrimination or stereotyping, the district must drop its use within a year, or face a fine.
Districts could seek an extension for up to a year if they can show compliance would create a financial burden.
In a February letter to the editor in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Koepke wrote, "People often don't even know anything about the people being offended. For example, the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians stereotype Indians by using an image of an Indian in a feathered headdress in a part of the country where those tribes didn't have that custom."
Closer to home, I talked to a few Big Foot High School students recently who wonder if a name-change is on the way.
Currently, however, we've heard of no claims directed at Big Foot High School, Walworth County's only school using a Native American name.
Big Foot officials have said they would fight any challenges to their nickname, which honors Chief Big Foot, leader of the Potawatomi tribe, who lived along the banks of Geneva Lake until European settles came to the area.
“We’re not planning on changing,” said Sue Pruessing, school board president told reporter Kayla Bunge earlier this month. “We believe we have compelling reasons why we should be allowed to have our mascot and name.”
I'm sure Koepke realizes he's made himself a target, particularly for the online flame throwers.
Although I don't agree with Koepke's blanket condemnation of using Native American names -- Chief Big Foot was an important leader who decided to leave Geneva Lake rather than face extinction in the face of European encroachment -- I admire the high school student taking a high-profile stand.