Wasilla High School is engaging in discussions with the Knik Tribal Council over the depiction of the Wasilla Warrior.
With a national movement to rename the National Football League team in Washington., D.C., online uproar over the confusion about the potential changes ensued last Friday after the Wasilla High School Facebook page posted two sentences about the collaboration with indigenous Alaskans over the mascot depiction.
“Knik tribe is not and won’t be a martyr, does not want to be involved in things that divide the community and want to take some of these hard trying opportunities to be able to educate people about the first peoples of this area. We’re looking at it as a really neat opportunity to teach people about the namesake of that community and the namesake of that school. A lot of people don’t know about Chief Wasilla,” said Knik Tribal Council CEO Richard Porter. “It’s a great opportunity to share. He was a very revered and sought after community leader and on top of that he was also known to be a very effective and proud warrior.”
Late last fall in his first year as WHS principal, Jason Marvel and his administration reached out to the Knik Tribal Council to discuss the logo and open lines of communication. Community discussion about Wasilla’s mascot has been ongoing for decades. Following scheduling conflicts and the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alaska, Wasilla assistant principal Karen Bloxsom met for coffee with Knik Tribal Council leadership in late June, nearly a week prior to much of the national discourse over the Washington D.C., NFL team. Following a weekend of Facebook backlash and a change.org petition signed by more than 1,600 people distributed widely by Grammy winning recording artists Portugal. The Man, whose members graduated from WHS, Marvel penned a second post to clarify what actions are being taken.
“We will be designing a display case in the front area as you walk into our school that pays respect to Chief Wasilla, Dena’ina Athabascan leader, and town’s namesake. It will provide historical context to the great Dena’ina Chief and the Athabascan culture. We will be seeking federal, state and non-profit organization grants to do this work and will not require monies from the school’s operating budget or the taxpayers of the Mat-Su Valley,” wrote Marvel. “While conversations have already begun surrounding the change of logo to be more culturally representative, the actual process will start once students return from summer break.”
Mat-Su Borough School District Board Policy 7512 states that each school shall have a mascot that will represent the school “in a positive manner benefiting school unity and pride,” reads the Board Policy. “The school mascot shall be respectful of different cultural values and attitudes and will depict individuals with fairness, dignity and respect.”
The Administrative Regulation attached to BP 7512 outlines the process for changing the mascot or colors of any MSBSD school, placing the responsibility within the school administration to determine if a change is needed. AR 7512 states that the principal shall appoint a group of students to survey, poll, and solicit nominations for the mascot and colors and offer additional opportunities for various segments of the school and community to offer input.
“We have a really, really beautiful culture that can be shared,” said Porter. “We’re not changing the logo, we’re adjusting the logo to be more culturally appropriate to the first peoples and Dena’ina that were here for thousands of years and we’re definitely working in unison with Wasilla High School.”
Marvel said that additionally, artwork around the school will be reviewed prior to the start of fall semester. Additionally, Marvel said that none of the logo revisions will rack up additional expenditures for taxpayers, seeking available state and federal grants to complete the changes.
“We felt that it was time to revisit the logo and so we really are in collaboration with Knik Tribal. We’ve met once to be clear, and the process isn’t moving forward until kids get back because kids are vital in this process. They’re really going to give us direction,” said Marvel.
The Knik Tribal Council website’s history states that the modern day city of Wasilla was named after Chief Visilla, a Dena’ina Athabascan who was born in the mid 1800s and lived until 1907 as a provider and warrior. Porter said that Knik Tribal Council maintains an excellent relationship with MSBSD, the Mat-Su Borough, city of Wasilla and Wasilla High School. Knik Tribal Council relies on a partnership with the MSBSD to allow for use of school buses and school buildings for their summer camp. Approximately 120 children of all backgrounds gather to learn about each other’s cultures and understand the historical Dena’ina use of the land. Porter said that Knik Tribal Council has around 3,000 members and nearly 15,000 indigenous Alaskans live in the Mat-Su Borough.
“I want to be clear in that we want to respect the traditions of Wasilla High School moving forward and really like I said, be that symbol of compromise that I think is much needed in our culture and climate today,” said Marvel.