Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Hairy-Legged Chief

They are the Indians, and unabashedly so. The small farming community of Mishicot says it’s not going to drop the “Indians” nickname for its high school, and have told the state Department of Public Instruction they will keep the logo of an Indian chief in full headdress.

Mishicot is a pretty little town, just north of Two Rivers and just west of Lake Michigan in Manitowoc County. The town has the standard white churches and rising steeples; a tidy main street; a covered bridge; and one of the largest golf resorts in the state, Fox Hills – 45 holes in total, including a championship-caliber 18-hole course.

There are about a dozen school districts in the state that have some sort of Indian nickname or logo who have not bowed to pressure from the politicians in Madison to abandon the name or logo. A few weeks ago, the guv signed a law making the state Superintendent of Public Instruction the ultimate arbiter of Indian nicknames and mascots, with power to ban Indian nicknames and logos.

Colleen Timm has been the principal and administrator of the Mishicot School District for the past six years, and says she has yet to hear a single complaint about their nickname or logo. Perhaps it’s because the district has written permission from the Hannahville Potawatomi to use the Indian nickname and logo.

Indian roots go deep in the small village of about 15 hundred people. A fellow by the name of Daniel Smith ran a sawmill there in the 1840’s, and as more folks began to settle in the area and hotels sprang up to serve people going to the trading post there, Smith named the settlement “Mishicot”, after his friend, Abraham Mishicot, leader of the local Potawatomi tribe.

I guess Smith figured “Mishicot” was a better name for his settlement than “Smithville”.

As is usually the case, there’s difference of opinion about what the Indian word “Mishicot” translates to. Some scholars say it means “turtle”; some say it means “covered with clouds”; but it seems the most reliable translation of the Chief’s name is “hairy legs”, according to Mishicot’s official website.

The high school athletic teams wear bright orange with the words “Mishicot Indians” on their uniforms, and their logo is a very stylized and updated facial rendering of a modern Indian in full headdress. The school newspaper is the “Indian Headline”.

There’s nothing derogatory or demeaning about any of it. It’s a reflection of the town’s heritage and a tribute to the person the town was named for. More importantly, the keepers of that heritage, the local Indians, agree – and have made their feelings known, in writing, to the school district.

Let’s see if the political and administrative forces in Madison have enough sense to keep their hands off this one.


  1. T!,

    >> Let’s see if the political and administrative forces in Madison have enough sense to keep their hands off this one. <<

    Oh! I can't watch! It's too horrible to contemplate! If we just close our eyes and wish hard enough maybe they'll all just go away!

    The Town Crank

  2. Can't help thinking that if the Mishicot crowd wanted to celebrate and respect the local natives, they'd call themselves the Potawatomi or something that makes sense instead of a historic inaccuracy coined by some jerk from Spain who thought he had landed his boat in India.

    Remember when some schools in Wisconsin had nicknames like Redmen (They still do in Rib Lake... d'ya think they have a signed note as well?) or Scalping Braves with accompanying cartoony mascots? Remember the ugliness on the boat landings with the Lac du Flambeau spearfishing 20 years ago? Wasn't it worthwhile to go after that garbage? Or does it all fall under the umbrella of political correctness?

  3. Let’s see if the political and administrative forces in Madison have enough sense

    Oxymoron personified.

  4. I am sympathetic to Jason's comment, and fully acknowledge that some "Indian" caricatures used as sports-team nicknames are offensive. (The Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo, for example, and the whole idea of the Washington "Redskins.") But in Mishicot's case, their desire to keep the nickname is justified, if the local tribe has given its approval.

    I have family who attended Central Michigan University, which adjoins reservation land, and where the teams are nicknamed the Chippewas with the full support and blessing of the local tribe. That's not enough for the hardcore PC crowd, however--CMU is on the list of teams the UW won't schedule in any sport because of their "offensive" nickname. And I am guessing that Mishicot will eventually be forced, via WIAA sanction, to change its name.

    Don't get me started on Lancaster having to change from "Flying Arrows."