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Attorney General says "no" to keeping money from schools with Native American mascots

Sarah Hulett
Michigan Radio

The use of Native American logos and images for school mascots is once again in the spotlight.

On Thursday the Michigan Attorney General weighed in on whether the State Superintendent can withhold money from schools that refuse to change their mascots.

In the opinion, Schuette says there’s no rule or portion of the school code that lets the Superintendent keep money from schools as a penalty for their mascot.  

Last February, the State Superintendent asked Schuette to weigh in on the issue.

Bill DiSessa is with the Michigan Department of Education. He said the Superintendent considered the penalty after multiple Michigan tribes raised concerns.

“The State Superintendent still encourages school districts that have Native American mascots and logos to use resources available in Michigan’s Native American Heritage Fund to defray the costs of changing their school mascot,” he said.

As part of a new agreement with the state, schools that want to change their mascots can apply for money from the Native American Heritage Fund. That can be used to defray costs of swapping mascots like new uniforms, signage, and letterhead.

Republican Representative Tim Kelly asked for the opinion. He says he’s happy with the result.

It’s a First Amendment item,” Kelly said. “So, hopefully this will kind of end this debate.”

Native American groups have spoken out against mascots like the Redskins and the Chippewas. They say the mascots are offensive and make Native American students uncomfortable.

Some schools in Michigan have raised the issue of their school mascots on their own. Belding’s school board recently decided to get rid of its mascot – The Redskins. Paw-Paw’s school board decided to keep the same mascot.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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