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SAUGATUCK, Mich. — The Saugatuck public school district in Southwestern Michigan on Monday released its new “Trailblazers” logo to replace the old “Indians” logo that was retired by school board action in August 2020.

Located 40 miles southwest of Grand Rapids, Saugatuck is a resort village that sits on the Kalamazoo River which leads to Lake Michigan.

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The transition from Indians to Trailblazers began about a decade ago when there was talk in the Saugatuck community about changing the name and logo.

“I was principal of the middle school back then,” recalls Tim Travis, Ph.D., superintendent of Saugatuck Public Schools. “There was a discussion about the name change and there were strong opinions on opposite sides of the issue. Through the years, we replaced the word ‘Indians’ in the football field’s end zones to ‘Saugatuck’.” 

In advance of a July 2020 school board meeting, Travis thought it was time to renew the discussion to possibly retire the Indians nickname. The discussion began soon after the Washington National Football League team decided to drop the racist “Redsk*ns” nickname and shortly after the death of George Flyod triggered discussions of racism throughout the United States.

He invited Julie Dye, a tribal citizen of the Pokagon Potawatomi Nation and longtime anti-Indian mascot advocate, to make a presentation to the school board. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the meeting was held virtually.

“Julie Dye provided us an excellent presentation that went into the reasons why the use of Indian imagery can be harmful to students,” Travis said. “She really made her case.”

During the next scheduled school board meeting in August 2020, the school board voted to retire the Indians name. The school system then formed a committee to rebrand the image of the school and select a new nickname. The new Trailblazers name was the result of the committee that tested the name with faculty, staff and community members. The name was advanced to the school board and received approval in February 2021.

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When school districts or sports teams decide to change their logos, the changes come with a cost. In order to offset the logo change, the Native American Heritage Fund provided $43,022 to the Saugatuck Public Schools to rebrand its logo. Established in 2016, Native American Heritage Fund through an amendment of the tribal-state gaming compact between the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi and the State of Michigan that allows for some of the tribe’s state revenue sharing payments to go into the fund.

The allocated funds are distributed in the form of grants to schools, colleges and universities, and local governments to assist with initiatives to improve curricula and resources related to Native American issues, and mascot or imagery revisions.

Travis says he applied for a grant from the Native American Heritage Fund to help with the logo rebranding.  

“Fortunately, our costs were not as high as some school districts have experienced. We had already removed ‘Indians’ from the football field. So, I wrote a grant that will help us pay for rebranding a wall and a gym floor,” Travis said.

On Monday, the district unveiled the new logo, which features a trail heading toward the sun that “represents inspiration and intuition.” The trail shape is also representative of the Kalamazoo River that runs through the city and the letter “S.” The primary logo is used for the district, individual schools and academics. 

The new Trailblazers crest retains the district’s longtime blue and orange colors. The pathway disappearing into the horizon is meant to represent the district’s new identity: Trailblazers Leading the Way. 

The school system feels it is important that the new logo is accompanied by a district new manifesto, which is: “At Saugatuck Public Schools, we lead, we explore, and we learn, together. And while we’re forging our own paths, we move forward as one. In the classroom, on the field, on stage, and in our community, we give everything we have, because together, we are Trailblazers. And Trailblazers lead the way.”

Saugatuck had 807 students enrolled for the 2019-20 school year, according to state data. Ninety percent of the district’s student population is white, while only .37 percent are classified as American Indian or Alaska Native. The rest of the minority student population breaks down as follows: Hispanic/Latino, 7.31 percent; Asian, 0.5 percent; Black, percent; and 1.36 percent are of two or more races, data shows.

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Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected]