Supporters say the mascots are a way to celebrate American Indian history and traditions and preserve the group's culture. But according to the complaint, new evidence suggests the use of the mascots "reinforces stereotypes," negatively impacting American Indian students' self-esteem, student learning and achievement.
The complaint cites 35 Michigan school districts "responsible for the alleged discrimination." However, a federal ruling for the Michigan department could have broader reach, spurring a nationwide ban on the use of such mascots and imagery in school districts that receive federal funds.
Daniel Levy, the director of law and policy for MDCR, wrote in the complaint that recent studies now provide a "legal basis" to prohibit the use of American Indian imagery and mascots by proving the mascots cause "actual harm" to American Indian students.
Previously, the only way to make a legal case against the use of the mascots was to prove harassment, Director of Public Affairs for MDCR Leslee Fritz said. The department either had to show bad intention on the part of the school or that the use of the mascot is "universally offensive" — "a difficult thing to do," she said.
Last year, the Oregon Board of Education banned the use of American Indian mascots in the state, citing the research as "key" in their decision.
Mark Dombroksi, superintendent for the Cheboygan Area School District, said he believes the district has used the "chiefs" mascot since the schools opened in the late 1890s. He said the community is heavily populated by American Indians and called the mascot a "sense of pride to the local community."
U.S. Department of Education spokesman Jim Bradshaw said the Office of Civil Rights has received the complaint and referred it to the Cleveland office, which handles matters involving Michigan. He said the office has not yet reviewed the document.
Fritz said the department chose to file the complaint at the federal level "to help every student at one time."
Michigan districts with American Indian mascots:
Athens Area Schools
Bay City Public Schools
Belding Area Schools
Birmingham Brother Rice
Woodhaven Brownstown School District
Camden-Frontier School District
Capac Community Schools
Cheboygan Area School District
Chesaning Union Schools
Chippewa Valley Schools
Clinton Community Schools
Dowagiac Union Schools
Gladstone Area Public Schools
Grass Lake Community Schools
Hartford Public Schools
North Huron School District
JW Sexton High School, Lansing School District
Marquette Area Public Schools
Morley Stanwood Community Schools
Huron School District
Tahquamenon Area Schools
Paw Paw Public School District
Plymouth-Canton Community Schools
Port Huron Area School District
Chippewa Hills School District
Sandusky Community Schools
Saranac Community Schools
Saugatuck Public Schools
Tawas Area Schools
Tecumseh Public Schools
Tekonsha Community Schools
Utica Community Schools
Walled Lake Consolidated School District
White Cloud School District
White Pigeon Community Schools