Okemos High School considers dropping ‘Chiefs’ name

Okemos considers name change
Published: Mar. 23, 2021 at 8:13 PM EDT
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MERIDIAN TWP., Mich. (WILX) - A local high school may be changing its mascot. Right now, Okemos High School teams go by the ‘Chiefs’, but they may not for much longer.

The Okemos School Board has put together a committee tasked with reviewing the nickname. The school board will host two public forums on April 14 and 15 for the public to give their input. The board will vote in May on whether to stick with the name.

Roviettiea Lewis is Native American. She says she attended Okemos Public Schools for three years before she decided to transfer. Lewis says she wasn’t comfortable with the school mascot.

“It’s like you have to act a certain way and it kind of shut who you are down,” she says. “The representation of our culture [is something] I don’t appreciate.”

Okemos School Board President Dean Bolton says he’ll wait for the committee’s findings before forming a public opinion. He acknowledges it’s likely inevitable the name changes at some point. But he points out the history behind the school nickname, and why some may be reluctant to change it.

“For a lot of people, this involves local traditions and sort of a sense of heritage that you know we have to acknowledge,” Bolton says.

Okemos used to have a logo with a representation of a Native American. The school did away with it a few years ago. Sexton High School in Lansing has done the same.

Lewis says it’s not the word ‘chief’ that is offensive to her. It’s what the word represents. She says the picture that is often associated with it is what she says is hurtful.

“It gives these children, who are not native, they don’t know our culture, it gives them the permission to pursue stereotypes against our people,” she says.

Bolton says there hasn’t been any outside pressure to change the name. He wants to hear what the community thinks is the best course of action.

Lewis has made up her mind. She doesn’t hold it against the district specifically, but thinks it’s time to change the name to something else.

“Okemos Public Schools was great,” Lewis says. But I wouldn’t feel comfortable with my children going there, the way that our people are represented right now.”

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