BHS Indian logo alternately described as 'offensive' & symbol of 'pride'

BELMONT — Once a Raider, always a Raider.

About 60 people, including students, teachers, parents and alumni, came to a Belmont High School Student Council forum last night to air their views about changing the Red Raider mascot from a chiseled silhouette of an American Indian to something else.

But a majority of those who spoke said they wanted to keep the school logo — including a number of students who said they took pride in being represented by the American Indian symbol.

"I'm not in favor of a change," said Belmont resident Tina Fleming, who said the mascot to her represents strength, pride and loyalty.

"We take pride in being Red Raiders," said one student athlete who said the school has never had costumed mascots or "paraded" around an American Indian. He said to him the symbol means the Red Raiders work hard and play hard.

The subject of changing the logo stems from a discussion held in a social studies class that led to the topic being discussed at recent Student Council meeting. Student Council member Andrew Bragg said he spoke with three students who came to Belmont High from a reservation and one of them told him he felt uncomfortable about the Red Raider logo.

The members of the student council decided that the logo — not the name of the team — was "unfeeling" and "offensive", said Principal Dan Clary.

He also said the student council said that keeping the American Indian as a symbol meant the school could not have a live mascot or paint the logo on the gymnasiums floors or playing fields. In the school, the only noticeable replica of the silhouette that had the name Red Raider on it was the message board in the cafeteria that was a gift to the school from the class of 2010.

Yet others said they were offended by the logo and wished it would change.

"It's just ugly," said one Canterbury man, who said he didn't think the logo was meant to be disrespectful but over the march of time has become so.

One woman who initially addressed the Student Council in Navajo said she was proud of them taking on such a difficult conversation and it made proud to be a citizen of Belmont.

The students began the meeting with two short videos produced by the National Congress of American Indians that showed American Indians saying they were offended by being portrayed as mascots.

Bragg explained that the words "red" and "raider" individually were not offensive nor were they offensive together. He said coupling the team name of Red Raiders with the American Indian head was what was offensive.

Student Council Historian Ashley Fenimore — who is a descendent of James Fenimore Cooper — said this is not the first time the logo has come under negative scrutiny. She also provided lists of colleges and school districts that have changed their logos and mascots and cited a ruling in 1998 by the NCAA and one in 2002 by the New Hampshire School Board Association saying that schools should not have mascots or logos that seemingly offend any national heritage.

Fenimore also noted that Lebanon High School recently voted to change their symbol from an American Indian to a "Raider Bird" however Spaulding High School, also the Red Raiders, voted against change. A dozen years ago and after a similar discussion, the Laconia Sachems changed their logo and stopped having a faux Indian lead cheers at football games.

The next step in the process is for the Student Council to compile the information gathered at last night's hearing and present it to the teachers and administrators for comment.

After that, and if they choose to continue with their efforts to change the logo, the matter will go before the Shaker Regional School Board, which has the final say.