While I usually tell people that I come from Rockford, I really grew up in a little town called Rockton about 30 minutes north of there. Whenever I say, “Rockton,” however, I am always met with confused looks, so it just seems easier to say, “Rockford” instead.
In our little town of Rockton lies Hononegah High School. I’m willing to bet that maybe half of you mispronounced that in your head – that’s okay, everybody does. It’s a Native American name after the Princess Hononegah of the Potawatomi Tribe who married Rockton’s founder, Stephen Mack Jr. Needless to say, the Town of Rockton boasts a unique and profound connection to Native American Heritage, including the dedication of her name on Hononegah High School.
Because of this Native American connection, I grew up with a certain reverence for Native Americans and was fascinated that the land we grew up on once held such a rich and vibrant culture. At Hononegah, our name was “The Indians” with a Native American Chief in headdress as our logo. For our mascot, we would have a student represent Princess Hononegah at our sporting events. That was something I always remembered well before my freshman year in high school.
In all those years growing up in Rockton, and attending that school, I never once heard of any issues with our school’s name, our logo, or our mascot. I never thought any of that was offensive, and I never heard from anyone else who felt offended.
That is, until two days ago…
While mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, I came across something I never expected to see: a petition to remove the Hononegah High School mascot. I was honestly taken aback, and questions started to emerge in my head. Of course, many of my former classmates took to Facebook and posting their own opinions for, or against the petition. In response, I made my own asking a few of those questions:
One, who made the petition? When I looked into it, I found that the petition read that it was “started by students.” Were any of these students of Native American descent? Did descendants of the Potawatomi Tribe, or the Mack family suddenly voice concerns after 97 years?
Two, is the term “Indians” offensive? We all remember the Washington Redskins issue. I can honestly see where that term might be offensive, but I genuinely was not sure about the term “Indians.” If it were offensive, wouldn’t a more reasonable solution be to change the name from “Indians” to “Natives?”
Three, what impact does this have on the history of Rockton? Are we removing the name, logo, and mascot altogether? Wouldn’t that be a disservice to the Native American heritage of the town?
Since the petition went online, roughly 1300 people have signed. To counter that petition, a second petition started to keep the Hononegah mascot, which is leading with almost 10,000 signatures. Multiple local news organizations have picked up the story as well.
My point in sharing my thoughts about a circumstance taking place in my hometown is that I believe it is representative of the culture we live in today. It seems that emotion takes precedence over reason when jumping into actions like this. Don’t get me wrong, I am entirely for the respect of any non-white people, and if the descendants of the Potawatomi Tribe of Mack family were in support of this petition, I would have no issue supporting this, but we have seen no evidence of that yet.
I am concerned that the political correctness of our generation tends to overshadow necessary analysis of a situation like this. There are questions that need to be answered before drastic reconfiguration of a school’s history, and I find it unfortunate that so many are willing to leap to conclusion before those answers are found.
I always welcome your comments, questions and concerns. Feel free to reach out at any time.