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Student plans to file formal mascot complaint

Governor Doyle signs Indian mascot bill

May 11, 2010

Mukwonago High School senior Rain Koepke said he will file a formal complaint against Mukwonago High School in the wake of Gov. Jim Doyle's signing of a bill that allows the state school superintendent of schools to ban American Indian mascots, nicknames and logos.

Under the bill was signed last week, School District residents may object to race-based names, nicknames, logos and mascots. The state superintendent then will decide whether a hearing is warranted. If the superintendent holds a hearing and finds the use promotes discrimination or stereotyping, he or she must order the school board to drop its use within a year. Districts could get extensions up to another year if they can show compliance would create a financial burden.

After learning that Doyle had signed the bill, Koepke said he was "giddy with excitement."

He plans to file the complaint as soon as he learns exactly how and where to do so.

Although Koepke said he's experienced backlash from students both before and after becoming vocal about the mascot issue, he also said that since coming forward, he's received some positive feedback.

Koepke said he's spoken to and received support from former district teacher and Oneida woman Renee Pfaller, who was involved with the issue when it came up in 1994.

Is history repeating itself?

According to a Milwaukee Journal article dated June 21, 1994, a 13-member special committee was created to study whether to keep the Indian logo. In June 1994, the Mukwonago School Board voted unanimously to retain the Indians name and logo after hearing a report from that committee. Pfaller was one of four members of the committee who voted against retaining the logo.

In its report, the committee cited tradition as the main reason for keeping the mascot.

After the School Board's 1994 decision, Pfaller spoke to a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union and filed a letter of complaint with the district, according to a July 8, 1994, Milwaukee Journal article. In that complaint, she and her husband, John, said that their son, Jeff, who was a student at Park View Middle School at the time, was intimidated, hurt and embarrassed by racial remarks and actions by teachers and students because of the district's use of Indian logos.

Among other things, the complaint cited an incident in which one of Jeff's teachers asked him during class how he felt about his mother raising the logo issue. According to the complaint, Jeff was in tears as the teacher repeatedly told him what the logo meant to her.

Until September 1993, Park View Middle School had an Indian logo that depicted a caricature of a pot-bellied Indian with a sagging feather in a headband, according to the Journal.

The Mukwonago Chief also ran several articles on the mascot issue at the time; just as in this year's logo discussion, many letters to the editor poured in, most of which favored keeping the logo.

One man actually blamed Pfaller for her son being harassed at school.

"If her son is having problems now, what will happen next year when he will be attending high school?" asked Bert Hoover in a July 13, 1994, letter printed in the Chief. "Mrs. Pfaller and a few others will have to share the blame for putting this huge load on this young man's shoulders by bringing up the issue time and time again and keeping it in the public eye."

Pfaller could not be reached for comment.

Hot issue debated in letters

Just as heated an issue in 2010 as it was 16 years ago, letters to the editor have poured into the Chief on the topic.

"As a wise man once said, 'we're all just a little bit racist,' " wrote Josh Rageth of Eagle in an April 28 letter to the editor. "Changing our name would be to forget our identity. I am, and will always be, a Mukwonago Indian."

Rageth argued that the logo honors Native Americans and asked where one draws the line. If the logo has to be changed, he questioned whether the name of the town and village (of Mukwonago) should be changed as well.

Several others have expressed similar arguments.

Koepke has repeatedly argued that he does not feel honored by the logo, and further, that he has been discriminated against because of it.

"I've been harassed at school for years," said Koepke in a recent interview.

Koepke said that the harassment has only worsened since he has decided to speak out. He was recently surprised when some students actually ridiculed him to his face, he said. Most often, students take a less head-on approach.

"I've had to learn to keep my ears open," Koepke said.

Anyone wanting to file a complaint with the superintendent can do so once the law is published into the state register, which should be within the next few days, said Patrick Gasper with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Gasper said that the department is working to establish rules for how complaints will be handled. A set of emergency rules will handle any early complaints while the department works to establish a final set.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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