Petitions debate whether to change or keep Dobyns-Bennett Indian mascot

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KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- Dobyns-Bennett High School’s Indian mascot is at the center of petitions circulating on social media. Over the weekend, a petition to change the mascot was met with a counter-petition to keep the mascot.

Jim Welch, president of the Kingsport City School Board, told News Channel 11 on Monday there are no current plans to discuss the matter. Regardless, the petitions have each collected hundreds of signatures and sparked online debates.

The petition to change the Indian mascot was started on Saturday by Dobyns-Bennett student Fathima Shaikh. The senior said she’s proud of her high school.

“I really love Kingsport, and I love my community and my school,” said Shaikh.

But since April, she’s been researching the Indian mascot and believes it’s a harmful portrayal. She found the large headdress the figure is wearing is historically inaccurate to tribes native to the area. Shaikh also said a race should not be a mascot.

“This mascot is degrading to Native communities. And it is used to compress the diverse racial identity of Native Americans into a stereotype,” she told News Channel 11.

Shaikh’s petition describes the history of school mascots being changed in the U.S. after being deemed offensive or inaccurate.

Racist mascots are all too common across the US. However, many schools and universities have realized their mistakes and their racial ignorance stemming from their choice of mascots and “school pride,” the petition reads.

Hundreds have signed off their support for changing the mascot. One supporter commented:

“I am a DB alumnus and I can’t wear any of my old school shirts because our mascot is racist and disrespectful, this is not an appropriate mascot. There are plenty of other choices, it’s not that difficult to change.”

In reaction, Dobyns-Bennett alumni George Pierce started a counter-petition in favor of keeping the mascot. Over 600 people had signed it as of Monday afternoon.

“Everybody’s saying it’s racist. It’s not. The area is steeped in Indian heritage. I mean, you’ve got Indian Path Hospital, [Warrior] Drive, Warriors’ Path Park. It’s not hate. It’s heritage,” Pierce told News Channel 11.

Both petitions have support from individuals claiming to be of Native descent. One supporter of Pierce’s petition wrote:

“My grandfather was native American and I went to Dobyns Bennett. It’s all about pride!”

Another comment on Shaikh’s petition reads:

“As an indigenous student, it was hard for me to walk down the halls every day and see my culture being made into some cartoon version of real humans who have been oppressed since the beginning of this country.

Pierce sees the mascot as honoring Native Americans.

“As far as I know, as long as I’ve known, Dobyns-Bennett’s always been the Indians,” he said.

Shaikh’s petition argues ‘human beings are not symbols.’

“A significant change like this will have backlash. This might become a case of heritage and pride against racism and offensiveness. However, heritage and pride does not compare to racism,” the petition reads.

Shaikh hopes the wider community and school board will discuss why the mascot was chosen and consider changing it, along with similar mascots for its middle schools, like the Robinson Redskins and John Sevier Warriors.

“DB needs a mascot that represents its Southern heritage, its student-focused world-class attitude, and maybe even our unanimous love of Pals and sweet tea,” said Shaikh. “I really respect Kingsport and all its done for me. So I’m just happy to see what happens.”

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