Painting in question

The painting in the old Waunakee High School gym, completed by students in 1975, has raised discussion.

As school districts around the state consider signing onto a resolution that would recommend to the Legislature barring the use of Native American mascots and imagery from their sports programs, the conversation has surfaced in Waunakee, where the team moniker is the Warriors.

Sparking considerable discussion on social media is the painting done by students in the 1970s of a Native American. It hangs in the old gymnasium, where physical fitness classes are taught. Logos for Waunakee school teams also feature a W, some with variations on a spear and some without.

School administrators said the conversation about these traditions has been ongoing.

So far, they remain uncertain about whether the term “Warrior” requires attention.

“I don’t know if the Warrior title itself, from my perspective, is one that needs to be changed. I think there’s lots of different… definitions of a warrior,” said Randy Guttenberg, school district superintendent.

Guttenberg said the district does not have a branded logo, but several variations of the W found on athletic fields and uniforms exist not only on sports jerseys but department letterheads. Some include prairie grass in the background, along with the district’s motto.

“That’s one of the areas that we need to go through to create what our brand is and finalize something of that nature, and I think that there’s many reasons to do it,” Guttenberg said.

Athletic programs, extracurricular programs and district departments have adopted different iterations of the W in their logos.

“It does present a challenge with getting our word out there or our consistent look out there,” said Aaron May, activities and athletic director.

Different letterheads also have different looks. As an example, the block style W at Warrior Stadium was arrived at by students and staff.

“I also knew there was legislation that’s come and gone throughout the years with regards to schools, and I didn’t want to put the district in any sort of financial position where you’d have to remove anything,” Guttenberg said.

No committee has been formed to discuss the creation of a consistent logo, but the current budget does have funds to hire a communication coordinator, and the position has been posted. Guttenberg said that might be the person to arrive at an official logo for the district.

School officials also have come to no decision about whether to remove the painting of the Native American from old gymnasium, but they have reached out to the student representatives on the school board. The painting was done on plywood and is backed by a curtain, so it could be moved in pieces.

Opinions about the painting are wide-ranging, as are the posts on the Waunakee Can We Talk Facebook page.

It is a piece of the Waunakee school’s history from the 1970s, and the students who created it worked with the Ho-Chunk Nation to research an accurate depiction.

Waunakee High School graduate Terry Enge said he painted the piece with classmate Phil Curwick in 1975.

“I wish we had put a piece pipe in its hand instead of a hatchet,” he said.

The plaque beside it includes information about the Native Americans being indigenous to the Waunakee area.

Guttenberg said he believed that history still resonates with Waunakee residents, but the question remains whether the painting is appropriate in 2020.

“I think there’s arguments on both sides of that,” he said.

Another question is, if the piece were moved, where would something of that size be placed, Guttenberg asked.

“This is a piece that had deep roots,” Guttenberg added, noting that it was done with a great deal of thought and research.

The fact that the piece has sparked conversation is healthy, Guttenberg said.

This summer, the Wausau School District asked the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to recommend legislation that would stop school districts from using Native American mascots and imagery. By October, 18 school districts had signed on to the resolution, including the Madison and Sun Prairie districts.

Guttenberg said the Waunakee district has taken the position that districts should have local control.

According to an Oct. 1 Wisconsin Public Radio report, the Wausau district’s resolution notes that in 2005, “the American Psychological Association called for immediate retirement of Native American mascots, symbols and images because of the harm caused to the social identity development and self-esteem of Native American students and because non-Native American students witness perpetuation of derogatory stereotypes.”

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