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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Firsthand Account
by Cindy Hodgson - Herald Times Reporter
MANITOWOC — More than 40 years later, Native American Richard Plass still tells the story of what happened at a basketball game in Kaukauna when he was a senior at Shawano High School. He told it again Thursday evening when he spoke to an interdisciplinary class called "Spirit of the Rivers" at the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc.

Plass, a Menominee/Stockbridge-Munsee, was president of his class when school personnel asked him to dress up in his traditional attire and lead the school's basketball team, the Shawano Indians, onto the court before a game.

He was resistant and explained, "We don't do that stuff for show; we do it for a specific purpose." But they asked him to talk to his parents, who asked him to talk with people on the reservation. A tribal leader told him if they wanted a show, he should give them a show, as long as he didn't wear anything considered sacred.

Plass didn't know what kind of reception he would get but was pleased to have the crowd stand and applaud when he ran onto the court. Afterward, the principal assumed he would do it again the next week, and after some hesitation, he was persuaded. He received the same applause.

The following week the game was in Kaukauna. When told the Kaukauna principal had sent a letter expressing eagerness for him to participate, Plass again agreed. This time there was a much different response. Unlike on his home turf, where many Native Americans were in attendance, the crowd in Kaukauna laughed at him, called him names, threw things and spit on him.

"I went running in the locker room in tears," Plass said.

His school received a letter of apology from the Kaukauna principal, which Plass said was "cool" but "still don't take away what happened."

Fast-forward a few decades. Plass was taking his young grandsons to a restaurant in Green Bay when they saw a banner on a nearby school that said, "Kill the Indians." His 7-year-old grandson wanted to know why people wanted to kill them, and Plass tried to explain it was just a sports thing, that nobody wanted to kill them. His grandson still didn't understand, and Plass didn't know how to answer.

"That's the real world," Plass said.

Mishicot IndiansThe presentation by Plass was one of three components of a program called "Native Americans in the Media" that was open to the public for a fee through UW-Manitowoc's continuing education program.

The other components were a showing of the film "Reel Injun" and an exhibit called "Bittersweet Winds" featuring a variety of items Plass has collected that illustrate how Native Americans have been depicted.

One of the depictions Plass objects to is the use of Indian names, logos and mascots by sports teams, such as the Mishicot Indians. He said people tell him he should be honored.

"Three people today told me that," he said.

But he doesn't feel honored.

"There is no honor in being laughed at, having food thrown on you or being spit on," he said.

Plass acknowledged that the Potawatomi in Hannahville, Mich., have given their approval for Mishicot to use the Indians as their mascot, and members of Chief Mishicott's family — after whom Mishicot is named — used to come to the community to do exhibitions. But he said they're from Michigan, not Wisconsin, and no tribe in Wisconsin approves of the use of Indian mascots and logos by sports teams.

Patty Marquardt of Manitowoc was one of the community members in attendance. She said she has developed an interest in history, specifically pertaining to Native Americans, and when she finds an event on the topic, she tries to attend and become more informed.

Marquardt also is a graduate of Mishicot High School, and she said she opposes using Indians as the team mascot. She said she wanted to hear from a Native American who is offended by its use, so she has "ammunition" in her conversations about the topic; she found his presentation "so helpful."

Many people haven't heard that side of the issue, said Kerry Trask, who co-teaches the class with Laura Apfelbeck. He thought it was good for people to hear from "a traditional Menominee person."

It's hard to look Plass in the eye and think that Indian mascots are OK, Apfelbeck said.

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