Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 24, 2001 - Issue 30



Stop the Insanity


by Richie Plass

My name is Richie Plass. I am a Menominee, Stockbridge/Munsee Indian from Wisconsin. Here is my story.

In the fall of 1968, I was a senior at Shawano Senior High School in Shawano, Wisconsin. I was also senior class president. Our school's student population was about 1500, with the ratio of about 6 non-Indians to each Indian student. I was approached by the athletic director about becoming the school mascot and leading out the basketball team at home games. The school's nickname was "Indians." I told him no because that wasn't the sort of things we did. He told me it would be good for student morale and would be good for community relations. I still told him no. He told me it would also be a good move because of the Indians that were on the basketball team. I still told him no. He asked me to think about it for a few days and get back to him.

That night I spoke to my Mom and Dad about it. You need to understand that I have been dancing since I was two years old and we were told that we didn't do this type of thing for "show." After some discussion, my Mom and Dad told me that if it was done right, it might be a good thing. They also told me to talk with some other people on our reservation and see what they thought. So I did.

One of our elders, who I respected all my life, said something along the line of, "You would be the right person to do it. A lot of people down there know you and you'd know how to do it. Just don't wear anything sacred."

Then I asked a lot of my classmates from the reservation what they thought. The main thing told to me was, "Do it. Show these white people that we're proud of who we are and we can show it."

So, after a few more days I went back to the athletic director and said, "Ok, I'll do it. But just one time."

Here's what happened.

There was a gentleman on our reservation who had a typical "Hollywood" type outfit. It was a full headdress with a double trailer of feathers down the back, a vest and aprons. I bought some, "Made in China" moccasins and was on my way. As I was in the dressing room getting ready for that, "one and only time," my buddies from the res said I looked good and that they were proud of what I was doing.

When it came time to lead the team out onto the floor, the doors opened up and I could see that the gym was full. I turned to my best friend, who was a fellow Menominee and capitan of the team, and said, "Here we go." As I ran out onto the floor leading the team, everyone in the gym rose to their feet and cheered. And they
cheered for a long time. I was rather overtaken by their response and after I gathered my wits back, I walked over to my Mom, Dad, and Grandma and shook their hands. It felt at that moment that it was the right thing to do.

The next week the coach came back to me and said because of the great response, they wanted me to do it
at all of the home games. I said, "Look, I told you I'd do it once and I did. No more." But they persisted and told me the newspaper would be there and they were going to write an article about what I was doing. So I
talked it over with my parents and friends and said ok. But then things changed.

The following week, the athletic director and coach said they wanted me to go to the next game, which was an away game. I told them no way. It was all I could do to do it at our school, but I didn't want to take a chance at a different town. The told me that the coach of that team had called them and that their school and community were looking forward to having me be there with the team. After some more discussions and heavy thinking on my part, I decided to go.

Here's what happened.

As the teams were going through their warm-ups, the gym was filling to capacity. I went into the locker room to change, and when it came time to lead the team out, I really felt pretty good. The doors opened up and as I led the team out onto to the floor, everyone in that gym rose to their feet and started to laugh!! Then they started to shout things at me. Then people started to throw things at me. Little kids ran up to me pulling at my outfit and trying to pull on my feathers. Then someone up in the bleachers spit on me.

That was it. I ran back into the dressing room, took off my stuff and told the coach, "I told you something like this would happen. Never again! Never will I do this again." And I didn't!

One day the following week, I was called to the principal's office before first hour began. This was not unusual because I sometimes had do do things as class president. But on this particular day, the principal asked me to stand next to him while he read the morning announcements. It was then, over the school public address system that he read a letter of apology from the principal from the school that had done that to me the previous week. I accepted the apology, but was never a mascot again.

The mascot issue is not only a racial issue and a human rights issue, it is wrong! History has always treated Indians unfairly, but when schools say they are, "Honoring and paying tribute to Indians," I'm here to tell you that there is no honor in getting spit on. There is no tribute when I see kids wearing plastic feathers and "war paint." There is no honor in getting laughed at.

One of the most repeated comments I have heard over the years is, "Our students don't do those type of things. Its other students at other schools." That still does not make it right. Or, when I hear some one say, "Why all the fuss? It's only a picture or logo, why are they all upset?" I get angry because it just isn't right.

We are Apache, we are Lakota, we are Menominee, we are Zuni. We are people!!

We are a proud and caring people who only look to live our lives as we were taught, to keep our traditions
alive and teach our children. We are not some cartoon character to be used as a marketing scheme to help
raise money. We are members of the human race. So you see, it is a racial and human rights issue.

Shawano changed its name a few years back. They are now the Shawano "Hawks." I feel good about that.

I could go on and on about what I have been through in my life, but there is one more thing you need to know.

Our people, the Menominee, were terminated in the 1960's. Do you know what that means? It means that the
United States government passed a law, using our people as an experiment, terminating us as Indians! In the summer of 1961 we became, "Menominee County." We instantly, and still remain, Wisconsin's poorest county. Here's what it means to be terminated.

After I graduated from high school, I went on to a technical college. It was during my second semester when the financial aid director asked me how I was doing for money. I told him I was doing ok, that I had a part time job back home on the res, played in a band and was getting assistance from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.

He asked me if the money from the state's, "Indian Student Grant" was helping.

I laughed and said, "I don't get that, Mr. Baker. I'm not an Indian." He looked at me funny and said, "But
you are." I told him, "No, sir, read your history. Our tribe was terminated. There's a piece of paper in Washington DC that says there are no more Menominee Indians." He called me to his office a few weeks later
and said he was appalled. He said he was never aware of the termination of our people and asked if he could
help me in any way. To this day we are still friends.

"The Menominee Restoration Act of 1973," signed by President Nixon restored us back to reservation status. So, according to the government of the United States, I'm an Indian, again!

Do the right thing. Drop the name. Honor everyone who has lived before me and everyone who will come after, give us true honor and drop the name.

Thank you for your time
Richie Plass

American Indian Sports Team Mascots




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