indiana area senior high school totem sign

Emotional debate over the appropriateness of the Indians nickname and logos rose again Monday for the Indiana Area school board, but the talk was decidedly one-sided and advanced from the simple yes-or-no positions argued two weeks ago.

Not a word of opposition to the school’s long tradition was heard, while a handful of residents who defended the Indians imagery on Aug. 10 pitched the school board to restore local and state history classes to the senior high school curriculum.

District resident Tammy Curry suggested that the student-led plea for the board to abandon the Indian representation seemed to reflect misunderstanding of true Native American culture, and seemed to be an act of profiling — racism, she called it — because a student said no Native Americans were present, although at least four people stood to say they were of American Indian ancestry.

“Young minds are being indoctrinated with notions by those that are not really familiar with local history, rather their own personal agendas,” Curry said. “This causes me great concern that these notions and agendas continue to cause division in our community and accusations of racism.”

Curry said she opposed a concept that the district’s students should be entitled to decide what nickname and mascot ought to represent Indiana’s athletic teams.

Retired teacher Denise Weber also questioned why the district teaches no local history and asked the board to restore it to the curriculum. To learn more of local culture, she encouraged the school directors to take part in a community history celebration being planned this weekend in Vintondale.

District resident Michael Scott, who said he is of Native American origin, said he has launched a petition drive to ask the board to include local Indian cultural awareness in life-skills training courses that he said are missing from the schools.

“The high school seems to prepare students for college, not for life,” Scott said. “I see this desire to be noticed, but not really in a way that’s productive, not in a way that’s informed. They like to act emotionally but they don’t actually like to do research. It seems to me they should learn these things (local history) before they get out of high school.”

Josephine Cunningham, a retired district social studies teacher, also lamented the disappearance of Pennsylvania history, local government and economics from the ninth-grade curriculum.

“I know because I taught it,” Cunningham said. “Now we have a gap between ninth-grade government and the electives for 12th grade.”

Donna McCoy, of the Shelocta area, said her own research found that Native American leaders have no problem with use of Indian images and names but are more offended by “antics” such as face-painting, the tomahawk chop and war cries to cheer the sports teams.

“I’ve learned that Native American history is not a priority in the schools,” McCoy said. “I agree that American and Pennsylvania history should be brought back.”

Board members didn’t directly respond to the suggestions and took no action during the meeting Monday.

Staff writer/Web Editor, The Indiana (Pa.) Gazette

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the Indiana Area and Homer-Center school boards and White Township, Center Township, Homer City and Burrell Township, and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.