Gregory Whitney | The Inevitable Indian Mascot

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

My high school is named for an Indian tribe, the Winnebago, as is the surrounding village, township and county. Naturally, the school mascot is the Winnebago Indian. It’s enough to give (Signal columnist) Gary Horton a coronary attack. How did this happen?

Six hundred years ago the Winnebago were a powerful tribe, spanning most of the upper Midwest, holding rival tribes at bay. Time passed and French trappers and fur traders began trickling into Winnebago territory. Vastly outnumbered, the French wisely integrated, procreated and negotiated intertribal peace, with warfare and some alleged cannibalism being bad for business. Unfortunately, casualties from the French and Indian War, the War of 1812 and the Blackhawk war followed, adding to European diseases’ negative impact. Eastern tribes forced west by U.S. expansion also pressured the Winnebago. Later, settlers and surviving Winnebago skirmished sporadically, each side blaming the other for the bloodshed and double dealing, eventually finding peace.

Today the Winnebago occupy two reservations, the Ho-Chunk in Wisconsin and the Winnebago in Nebraska. Both factions are federally recognized and have casinos. Perhaps the present-day Winnebago are too busy living their lives, applying for federal grants and managing their casinos to grouse about an Indian mascot at an Illinois high school. Besides, anyone acquainted with the Midwest knows Native-American-derived names dominate the geography and culture (Cities: Chicago, Milwaukee, Sioux City, Chippewa Falls; States: Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, North and South Dakota, Nebraska; Lakes: Michigan, Huron, Oshkosh; Rivers: Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois).

Although a smattering of French names remain (Des Moines, Eau Claire, Fond du Lac), in the main, native Midwesterners celebrate our Native American legacy and respect the people who created it. And it is hilarious when native Californians try to spell or pronounce our Native American terminology. 

Gregory Whitney

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