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Minnesota high school at crossroad of Indigenous name change debate

Minnesota is one of a few states that have passed laws banning public schools from using any nicknames, logos or mascots tied to Indigenous people.
Posted at 1:21 PM, Sep 19, 2023

While public backlash against Native American stereotypes has pushed professional and college sports teams to change their names, high schools across the U.S. continue to use Native American-themed mascots and logos.

A few states — including Minnesota — have passed laws banning public school districts from using any nicknames, logos or mascots that are tied to Indigenous people. But this can be costly and complicated for some schools.

Menahga High School is located about three hours north of Minneapolis, embedded right between the White Earth and Leech Lake reservations. Braves is the nickname of the school district, but now officials are tasked with tallying up the cost to erase the name.

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A petition has 76,000 signatures from people who want to change back to the old name, which many Indigenous and Native Americans deem a racial slur.


Menahga previously dropped its Indigenous mascot logo for the letter "M," but district officials are trying another approach to keep their Braves name. Superintendent Jay Kjos, who has Indigenous ties and has been involved with the Native American Student Associations, is in the process of trying to get an exemption. 

"It was a long time coming [and] thankfully they allowed for folks to make exemption if we write a letter and get all 11 tribes to agree. Then our exemption is approved," Kjos told Scripps News. "And we'll do whatever is right, and whatever the tribes recommend we do in Minnesota." 

To get an exemption, school districts must get permission from all 11 federally recognized tribal nations in Minnesota and the state's Tribal Nations Education Committee. If any parties oppose the exemption by Dec. 15, then the school's request will be denied. 

However, no funding has been set aside to help districts pay for the mandated changes, largely because it wasn't clear who would apply for an exemption. 

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The M logo with the Braves nickname appears all over the school, Kjos said. "It has to do with our positive behavior and support system and the way we use the word 'brave.' We will be able to do it [the name change], but it will affect the bottom line of our budget." 

The number of Minnesota school districts using Indigenous mascots or logos has dwindled from more than 50 three decades ago to about a dozen. It's something Kjos saw coming, but said he wouldn't be doing his job for the students if he didn't respectfully ask for an exemption. 

"I'm going to wait and see what guidance I get from the exemption letter that was sent out," he said. "And I'll make a plan with the committee and the teachers here [about] how we can meet the letter of the law."