In Parma Discussions, Majority Favors Changing Name of Controversial Native High School Mascot


  • Parma City School District
The majority of participants in two community conversations about the future of Parma Senior High School's mascot, the "Redmen," have favored changing the name. Residents, alumni and members of Northeast Ohio Native American organizations all provided commentary in a Thursday evening Zoom call, and most of them believed that the name and logo should be retired. 

Parma is Cleveland's largest suburb and Ohio's seventh-largest city. The school district, led by Superintendent Charles Smialek, has undertaken a process to gather feedback from the community about the mascot in light of national conversations around social justice and recent concerns voiced at a Parma School Board meeting. There will be one more virtual community conversation, in August, after which Smialek said he plans to engage students.

The arguments to keep the name and those to abandon it are familiar to Clevelanders, who are watching a virtually identical conversation play out at the Major League level. The Cleveland Indians organization is following the Washington D.C. football team in likely parting ways with its name. (The Indians removed the Chief Wahoo logo from team caps and jerseys in 2018.)

Just as in the Indians case, representatives from local Native organizations argued that Native mascots cause social and psychological harm to Native Americans, particularly Native youth.

Joshua Hunt, Vice Chair of the local 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance group, said Thursday that not only do these logos cause harm for native students, but they damage non-native students as well by "filling their heads with stereotypes."

Gina Wilkolak, a 2007 graduate of Parma Senior High who now lives in Richmond Heights, urged a name change, too. She referenced a recent change to the Berea-Midpark High School logo, a clenched white fist holding a lightning bolt, which some felt was reminiscent of a white power symbol. 

"If Berea-Midpark can listen directly to people in the community who point out an offensive aspect of a logo, and something is done about it, then that can certainly be achieved in the Parma City School District," she said. "If we want to inspire students to make the world a better place, we should be embracing the fight for social change."

A 1973 graduate of Parma Senior High said that the name and logo had been "near and dear" to her years ago, but that she no longer agrees with it, having lived in other cities and more diverse neighborhoods. She said her adult children were "appalled" at the name. "We would never consider having a team called the Brownmen or Yellowmen or Whitemen, so why is Redmen okay?"

Parma's current wrestling coach and 2013 alum Justin Halaska provided thoughtful perspective borne of his personal experience. He said that while he had fond associations with and pride for the name — he said he'd received Parma's "Mr. Redmen" athletic award in high school — he also said he didn't experience much racial diversity growing up in Parma and now understands he doesn't have the right to tell anybody how or what to feel.

"If this is hurting Native Americans, then [the mascot] has to change," he said. "It's that simple, and I don't think kids 20 years down the line are really gonna care. I really don't. I understand that people say we live in a soft society or that we're being too sensitive. But isn't it okay to be more sensitive? To be more aware of how other people feel?"

Representing the opposing viewpoint, two Parma alums spoke passionately about keeping the Redmen name and logo. They argued, as supporters of Chief Wahoo long have, that calls to change the name were products of a politically correct society that took offense at everything.

"I call these people the perpetually aggrieved," said one woman, who was later removed from the call for violating ground rules in the Zoom chat box. "They will complain about anything and everything. You don't choose a [mascot] to be an insult to anybody. That's just ridiculous."

Several representatives from an organization called NAGA, the Native American Guardian's Association, spoke in defense of the name and logo as well. The organization's vice president, Tony Henson, said offensiveness was a door that swings both ways, and while many Native Americans would be offended if the name were to be kept, "I would be offended if you got rid of it." He referred to the abandonment of Native mascots as "cultural genocide."

Sundance, the Executive Director of the Cleveland American Indian Movement chapter, told Scene after the call that while there was certainly more voices in favor of getting rid of the Redmen name Thursday, the first call was even more imbalanced. He said in the initial Zoom conversation, there was no opposition to the name change at all.

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