Schools and professional teams across the country have been changing their names saying their names were offensive. Other people argue the name changes are “virtue signaling” and that the changes aren’t necessary.
In particular, a number of schools and sports teams are changing their names which contain words such as Indians, Braves, Redskins, and Savages. The Washington Redskins for instance are no longer known by that name this year but now go by the name “Washington Football Team” as a debate about a new name continues.
Here in Idaho, the Boise Braves changed their name to just Boise Brave after unanimous approval by a school board.
The Pocatello High School Indians have also now had a name change approved and will retire the “Indians” name in June of 2021 after having the name for over 100 years. The move to change the name has caused controversy in the Pocatello community with some questioning why the change was sought after in the first place.
An email obtained by Steve McCurdy through a public records request appears to show that Pocatello High School Principal Lisa Delonas was planning to change the name and didn’t want the public to know about the plan too early.
Delonas sent the email on August 23rd to a number of staff members including head football coach David Spillett which contained a document titled, “Mascot 2.”
Here is the full wording from Delonas’s email:
Please read and give me any feedback you may have. This has been really difficult and I know it is history in the making. I want to be absolutely certain I am doing this the best way I can. Also please keep this private. I don’t want the public tipped off any sooner than they have to be. I have been asked to not speak about this.
From the email, Delonas says she wanted the information kept private so the public was not aware too early that the name change was being looked into. Delonas also states that she knows it is history in the making.
It is unclear who Delonas is referring to when she says she was asked not to talk about the effort to change the name.
Idaho Dispatch has sent Delonas an email asking for an explanation on not wanting the public to have the information too early and who told her to not speak about the information she was sharing. We did not receive a response from Delonas directly responding to those questions.
In addition to those questions, Idaho Dispatch asked Delonas if there were any teachers or students that were opposed to the name change. We also asked her about a video that was put out by the school that encouraged the name change and if any opposition to the change was part of that video.
None of Idaho Dispatch’s questions were responded to at this time by Delonas directly.
Idaho Dispatch did receive an email from the Communications/Community Relations Director Courtney Fisher with a timeline of events but the document sent to us does not answer the questions we had for Delonas.
You can view the document sent to Idaho Dispatch at the end of this article.
On Delonas’s original email, Pocatello High School head football coach Spillett sent her the following reply:
Lisa, this is a masterpiece and I couldn’t agree more. I to[o] have that same love and family history at our great school. I looked at Poky football the same way you looked at indianettes. Lisa I would love to get this changed because it’s the right thing to do and not because we’re forced to do so. My only request is that you allow me to be by your side so that people know that you and I stand united and are in this together. This is just another example of why you truly are the best. I really hope you allow me to be by your side as we move towards this very important change. Thank you so much for being you. I love working with you and continue to be proud to tell people that you’re are the leader of our school.
Spillet also testified at a recent school board meeting affirming his support of the name change as did a number of other individuals, including some tribal members.
Not everyone who spoke at the board meeting regarding the name change was in favor though.
Clayton Armstrong, who has been an outspoken critic of the change, spoke against it. Armstrong worked in the Pocatello school district for 33 years as a coach he said.
Armstrong told Idaho Dispatch that the lack of transparency of this process and the way in which opposing opinions are being shut out is a troubling trend with Delonas and the school board.
In addition to Armstrong speaking out against the change, Chief Pocatello’s great-grandaughter, Michelle Hernandez, spoke at the meeting.
Hernandez gave her lineage at the meeting to show that she was a direct descendant of Chief Pocatello. She also said that she had received permission from her elders to speak on their behalf.
Hernandez closed her testimony by asking the board not to change the name of the school.
Out of the individuals who testified, approximately half were in favor of the change and half were against it. Many of those who testified in favor of the change were current faculty members and a few students, including one of the varsity football players. Many of the individuals who testified against the change were former alumni of Pocatello High School.
In the end, the board voted unanimously to change the name of Pocatello Indians at the September 15th board meeting.
A new controversy is now brewing over the name change and what the new mascot will be.
Three days after the approval for a name change on September 18th, the school asked for public input on a new name. On October 5th, a total of nine possible names were finalized for public consideration.
Here were the nine names that were up for consideration and voted on by the public:
Phantoms, Bison, Eagles, Wolves, Mountain Lions, Mustangs, Falcons, Thunder, and Stampede
A new survey was then conducted which narrowed down the names to Bison, Phantoms, Thunder, and Mountain Lions.
From that survey, 28.6% of individuals voting had chosen the Phantoms. 26% of individuals voting chose Bison as the mascot they preferred and 21% chose Thunder with a bison as the mascot.
Despite the public input, some citizens are accusing Delonas of having already chosen the name “Bison” as the new mascot.
Idaho Dispatch was sent a document which Delonas had presented to tribal members and board members on September 3rd, a private meeting, where she talked exclusively about the name “Bison” as a mascot.
Here is what Delonas said in part of that presentation, emphasis added by Idaho Dispatch:
Finally, Pocatello High School would also like to propose a new mascot to be adopted. We have toiled over finding a mascot that would still represent the great history of the area and the role that Native Americans and their leaders have played in shaping our culture and traditions; a mascot that would still instill a sense of pride and a respect for the history of great school. The mascot we would like to propose is the bison. Our research has told us that the word “Pocatello” has no meaning in the Shoshoni language, but that is a word created by white men who joined Shoshone word roots in an attempt to describe child as one who was “stealthy and did not follow the road.” The chief referred to himself as Tondizaosha, meaning “buffalo robe.” We hope that by becoming the bison we can build a connection between our past and future. Bison are beautiful, powerful, majestic creatures. They symbolize strength and unity and are revered for their power and the good fortune they brought the tribes. We are confident the bison will bring Pocatello High School good fortune as well as we rededicate ourselves in strength and unity as a school we can say with confidence is a place “Where Everybody is Somebody.”
This presentation given by Delonas took place on September 8th, while the decision to change the name did not take place until September 15th and the request for public input on a new name was proposed on September 18th.
Delonas denied in an interview on the Neal Larson show that she had already chosen the name Bison for the school. You can hear her interview on the Larson show here:
Delonas said in the interview that she was only using the Bison as an example and that she had come up with the name Bison as part of a narrative where the former mascot, Chief Pocatello, handed off his responsibility as the mascot to the bison.
Delonas said the Phantoms doesn’t really fit that narrative but she was in no way saying Bison was the decision based on her preference.
One additional email that was sent to Idaho Dispatch from McCurdy shows that on August 22nd Delonas had also discussed the bison name. Here is what the email said to an individual named “Billie Johnson” with emphasis added by Idaho Dispatch:
I don’t think we have to get rid of feathers as decor just because we are the bison. They are not mutually exclusive. Feathers are pretty neutral to me and sort of trendy at the moment. They are not any sort of consideration for me. I’ll probably get rid of the sentence…In truth, we never have. A few people have commented on it and I don’t want it to become something to rally behind.
Several days later on August 25th, an email is sent to Delonas from Jacob Contor, a teacher of Theater and English at Pocatello High School, where he says in part,
Thank you so much for being an advocate for us teachers to the school district. I appreciate your deep consideration and effort in light of the upcoming change to Poky. I think the bison idea is a good choice. (The stampede, the herd, largest North American land animal, etc.).
These emails all pre-date the eventual vote by the Pocatello School Board (District 25) on September 15th before the decision to change the name had taken place and before the survey for public input on a different name was released.
Armstrong and McCurdy both told Idaho Dispatch that a lot of their frustration with this process is that it wasn’t transparent and that everything from the name change and the new name being chosen seems to be pre-determined by Delonas and the school board members.
Delonas denies that any of it was pre-determined by her and that they want public input on the issue. She also said on the Neal Larson Show that the emails are taken out of context and reiterated that the bison was just an example she had come up with.
The school board is set to meet again on December 15th at 5:15 p.m. and the new mascot will be implemented on June 1st, 2021.
What do you think of the mascot name change for the Pocatello High School Indians? Was it time for a change or is this change unnecessary?
Do you believe Delonas and other individuals have already predetermined the name change and new name or do you believe the process has been transparent and open to the public and that all sides of this issue are being heard?
Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Note: Here is the document sent to Idaho Dispatch regarding our initial inquiry to Principal Delonas and the response from District 25’s Communications Director:
Retiring the Pocatello High School Indians Mascot
More and more school boards across the country have recently action similar to the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District Board of Trustees. In fact, the National Congress of American Indians has reported that 63 schools, including Pocatello High School, have changed their Native “themed” mascot during the 2020 calendar year. That number, last updated on December 9, 2020, continues to climb weekly.
In response to a recommendation presented by the PCSD 25 administrative staff, the Board took completed a thorough review before making the determination to retire the mascot. As part of that determination process, the Board received written and verbal comments and engaged in discussion between Board members. The recommendation followed a series of events leading up to it that warranted a timely response, which include:
- The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes position paper, submitted to the Idaho State Board of Education, the Idaho Governor and the state legislature in 2019. Multiple requests predate this position paper, dating back as far as the 1960s; https://www.scribd.com/document/420398413/Shoshone-Bannock-tribes-position-paper-on-Native-American-mascots
At that time, PCSD 25 administration had informal conversations about the topic, but determined to postpone moving forward with making a recommendation to the Board until a later date. Informal administrative discussions were held to potentially revisit the issue in the late spring/early summer of 2020. Subsequently, the pandemic hit and further postponed any administrative recommendations to consider the issue. The decision was made to address this issue publicly only once a firm timeline was defined to bring it before the Board for consideration. This is standard operating and considered part of the due diligence process for major decisions. The communications referenced in the questions are informal emails between staff members and their administrator, and also part of the due diligence process
- A follow-up letter from by Acting Chairman of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes requesting the change, submitted to the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District on August 12, 2020;
- A subsequent editorial published in the Idaho State Journal by Acting Chairman Callahan on August 14 based on the letter referenced above; https://www.idahostatejournal.com/news/local/racial-injustice-and-idaho-school-mascots/article_dd6b5751-e44b-5672-98fb-49834c376a42.html
- A meeting between PCSD 25 representatives and the Fort Hall Business Council on September 3. At this time, it was determined to bring forward a recommendation to the PCSD 25 Board to consider retiring the PHS mascot. A press release was submitted immediately following the meeting to notify the public: https://www.newsbreak.com/idaho/pocatello/news/2054005368030/school-district-25-board-of-trustees-to-consider-request-to-retire-pocatello-high-school-indians-mascot
- September 8 – An administrative recommendation to retire the Indian moniker and mascot of Pocatello High School was presented to the school board.
- September 15 – The Pocatello Chubbuck School Board voted in favor of retiring the Indian mascot effective June 1, 2021 and move forward with the selection process for a new mascot that can be embraced with the same unique brand of Poky Pride the school has carried for more than 125 years.
- September 18 – The public was invited to submit ideas for a new mascot. When the submission period ended on October 18, roughly 190 individuals had submitted ideas.
- September 21 – Based on recommendations from staff members, invitations to individuals to serve on the mascot committee are extended.
- September 28 – Committee members began reviewing submissions and continued to review them through October 16.
- September 30 – Representatives from the Shoshone Bannock Tribe joined school district administration and toured Pocatello High School. Imagery to be considered for removal was discussed. Ways to create an educational display were discussed.
- October 5 – Committee members discussed the merits of each submission thus far and narrowed them down to 9 possibilities.
- October 15 – The 9 mascot finalists were provided to representatives from the Shoshone Bannock Tribe for input/approval. All 9 were approved.
- October 20 – Community members, PHS alumni, current and future students were invited to provide input via an informal Google survey. The survey required participants to select their top three choices from the 9 presented.
- November 1 – Public input survey closes. In total, 3,514 submissions were received.
- November 2 – Mascot committee reviewed public input and prepared to bring the findings to the Board.
- November 10 – Board Work Session. Committee presented findings to the Board.
- November 15 – Regular Board Meeting. Board requested additional public input.
- November 16 – Evaluation survey was published.
- December 2 – Evaluation survey is closed.
- December 8 – Evaluation survey findings are presented to the Board at a Work Session.
- Pending: December 15 – Regular Board Meeting. Final mascot selection is on the agenda for consideration for action.
Petitions supporting the change:
Petitions in opposition to the change:
Tags: Bison, Chief Pocatello, Clayton Armstrong, Courtney Fisher, David Spillett, Lisa Delonas, Phantoms, Pocatello High School Indians, Steve McCurdy