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‘It’s a pretty divisive issue and it’s been dividing communities all over the country’: Wasilla High creates new Native Alaskan warrior logo

The Wasilla High School logo that represents Dena'ina Athabascan Chief Wasilla
The Wasilla High School logo that represents Dena'ina Athabascan Chief Wasilla(Wasilla High School)
Published: Apr. 16, 2021 at 3:32 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) -This week more than 80% of the students at Wasilla High School voted on a new design to depict the school mascot, the Wasilla Warrior.

Since at least the 1960s, Principal Jason Marvel said, the image of a Lakota Sioux man from the Dakotas wearing a feather headdress has been the mascot. But, in 2019, before the pandemic, the principal reached out to the Knik Tribal Council to ask how to update the image.

“It’s a hard process, and there weren’t a lot of people that were willing to help us change it,” Marvel said. “And that’s why I’m just so thankful for Knik Tribal Council and their willingness to collaborate with us and help us to represent our school and our community.”

The U.S. Census reports that Wasilla is about 80% white with an Alaska Native population of almost 6%. Chief Wasilla, former Governor Sarah Palin and members of the rock group Portugal. The Man are some of the city’s most famous residents. According to the City of Wasilla, Chief Wasilla was a respected Dena’ina Athabascan

Richard Porter, CEO of Knik Tribal Council, referred to the collaboration between the school and the council as “extending an olive branch” and praised Marvel for reaching out for guidance.

“We’re just looking for an opportunity to share that culture and develop a culture within us where everybody feels like they’re a part of it,” Porter said. “A culture that’s together and not separate.”

Native American groups have protested the use of Indigenous nicknames and mascots for decades. There have been concerns about stereotyping and dehumanizing when sports teams use logos, mascots and names based on Native Americans. Across the country hundreds of high schools, colleges and pro teams have eliminated offensive symbols.

“It’s a pretty divisive issue and it’s been dividing communities all over the country and we have some individuals who believe we haven’t gone far enough,” Marvel said. “They want completely the warrior to be removed. Some people don’t want it to change and it represents change. But, you know, we believe that, as well as Knik Tribe, that we’re in this together and we want to build community.”

Marvel said seven designs were submitted and then the students voted between the top two choices. Out of about 800 students, 83% chose the version that uses a combination of a picture showing Chief Wasilla and other Dena’ina Athabascan warriors.

Porter said the collaboration created more than just a new design; he says it sparked curiosity in students about Chief Wasilla, Dena’ina Athabascans and other First People in the area. He also said the council fully supports the use of the word “warrior.”

“We understand the depiction of red skin. We understand the depiction of black hawk. We understand the derogatory names that those are,” Porter said. “But when it comes to a warrior, I think the best thing that both of us can agree on, was a warrior was a person that had the responsibility, and built his or her own strength, to be able to protect the people that can’t protect themselves.”

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