East Peoria community members discuss high school’s controversial Native American mascot

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EAST PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — When it comes to the East Peoria Community High School’s mascot, there’s a burning question on whether the Raider’s Native American imagery depicts appreciation or appropriation.

School officials held a community forum Wednesday night to hear from the public and understand how the community feels about the mascot. The forum also gave officials an idea of whether people believe the image should be replaced.

The conversation aroused from proposed legislation in 2020 that suggested Illinois schools with Native American mascots or imagery would either have to change the mascot or get schools to get written consent from a tribe within 500 miles of the school to use the mascot and teach two courses in Native American history.

The proposed bill didn’t go anywhere but the district’s superintendent, Marjorie Greuter, said she’s heard from her state contacts that it’s coming back.

A few more than 30 people gathered in the high school’s auditorium Wednesday night to speak during the public comment, the majority believed the mascot and possibly the name “Raiders” needed to go.

“It’s not about the tradition of the community, it’s not about whitewashing, it’s about being respectful and this is not respectful,” Bryce Woodard, EPCHS senior, said.

The common argument for those in favor of getting rid of the mascot, and possibly the name, as it’s both offensive and disrespectful to the Native American history and population. Others also mentioned the school’s image doesn’t clearly define which tribe is being depicted.

“We need to change our imagery to show our kids what it looks like to actually honor someone, which is not to cherry-pick what we believe their culture is,” Casey Pfeifer, an English teacher at EPCHS, said. “Our mascot is not EP’s tradition, it is a dumping ground for offensive and over exaggerated stereotypes that we do not understand and that are not remotely accurate.”

“I hear people say ‘well if you take away this then we have no school spirit’ [and] I think it’s important to bring up that you can still have school spirit and be proud of something without making a mockery of a culture or an image or a person,” Ava Metternich, EPCHS sophomore, said.

Those on the other side of the argument said the mascot was a part of the city’s image and history and they didn’t believe it dishonored anyone.

“I really struggle with losing some of that history because of a lot of perceived, my perception again, is a lot of perceived notion that it’s a disrespect, I think it’s the exact opposite of that,” John Knapp, Fire Chief, said.

“I realize that some people may look at some of the things around the mascot and the imagery and find some offense in it, but I can tell you from East Peoria’s perspective, whether people want to agree or disagree, there was never any discrimination involved in the Raider name,” John Kahl, East Peoria mayor, said.

Danira Parra, the pastor of Dayspring Native American United Methodist Church, said East Peoria has a rich Native American history, that’s not reflected in the mascot, and she’d like to see the community connect with the natives in the area.

“I’m not saying that you should remove the mascot, I’m saying that it would be nice to be able to be proud of it on all levels, to be able to share the history with the greater community as well as with the students here,” Parra said.

After the forum, Greuter said they’ll be in further discussion to determine what the next step would be and when they may take place.

Andy Paulson, school board president, said he believes the next steps would involve some sort of community involvement and stakeholder involvement to see where they will go next.

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