GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - Michigan civil rights officials are calling for a ban of school mascots using Native Americans as their symbols. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights filed a federal complaint on Friday, naming 35 schools that still use Native American mascots.
For decades, the Ottawa Hills High School sports teams were known as the Indians. Kurt Johnson, Executive Director of Athletics was part of team, which helped change the school's mascot in 2003-2004.
"Understanding the concerns of the Native American Council, we wanted to make sure we weren't being offensive to any group," says Johnson.
According to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, a growing amount of research shows that the symbol negatively impacts Native American students. The department wants a federal order, making all schools change the mascot.
Johnson says the incoming freshmen at Ottawa Hills haven't had a problem with the mascot changes, but he says there has been resistance in past years from some of the alumni.
"Alumni were very vocal about not changing the mascot, but as time went on, they understood the need for it," says Johnson.
Johnson says the change has positively impacted the school environment and he has a little advice for other schools considering the change.
"Look at making sure the school environment is inclusive and is supportive and is representative of all, then it should be an easy decision for them to make," says Johnson.
However, if the order is approved, the federal government would make the decision for them.
Saugatuck was one of the few schools on the lakeshore that still uses the Native American mascot, the Indians. WZZM 13 reached the superintendent, but he declined an interview, saying it was too early in the process.