The Life or Death of the Dartmouth Indian

Staff Writer: Maya Arruda Email: marruda7@umassdtorch

The modern incarnation of the Dartmouth High School logo.

If you’re a commuter student or had any reason to travel off campus in the last month, chances are you’ve noticed the green and white lawn signs saying to “Defend Dartmouth: Vote Yes April 5th” with the picture of a drawing on the side and no other caveat or explanation. Well, if you don’t keep track of local Dartmouth events, the sign is about as nonsensical as the phrase “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” with no context. On April 5th, the Town of Dartmouth is voting whether or not to keep their logo for Dartmouth High School. Now, if you’re wondering why people would even bother to vote on this, let’s just say this school calls itself the Dartmouth “Indians” with their logo being a Native American head.

The original Dartmouth “Indian” was drawn in the seventies by Clyde Andrews, a fifteen year old student who was a Native American himself who lived on the local reservation. He drew the symbol to represent strength and the pride of his culture. As a Dartmouth High School alum, he stands by his logo today as stated during an interview with Dartmouth Week newspaper back in March. Multiple other people from this tribe agreed that the logo is inoffensive and a symbol of strength and pride with spokespeople appearing on an NBC news broadcast to defend this logo. To be very clear, the initial design and intention of this logo was not meant in any way, shape, or form to stereotype, belittle, or caricature the Wampanoag tribe. 

The town of Dartmouth itself has some history with the Native American tribes. Dartmouth was one of the earliest Puritan settlements with the town being older than the United States of America by over one hundred years. Anyone who took a US history class that even lightly touched upon colonization of the country should understand why having the settlement call itself the Dartmouth Indians with a Native American head as a logo three hundred and fifty-eight years later is problematic. It’s even worse when modern Dartmouth is 89% white according to the 2020 US Census data.

Now, around half a century after the logo’s initial creation and adoption as the symbol of Dartmouth High School, the question has arrived: is it appropriate to keep this logo and the name of the Dartmouth “Indians”? People in favor of keeping this logo today will cite the tribe’s support of it and the intent during its creation as reasons to keep it intact, saying that the logo is not a racist depiction of a Native American individual. One letter to the editor of the New Bedford Guide by Shelly Zhang argues that there are more important things to be concerned about regarding the education system than the logo due to the pandemic. In an article on the New Bedford Light by Michael Guala, he claimed that critics of the logo base their claims of mental harm that could come from the Dartmouth High logo are based on a flawed study and that the critics themselves fail to understand the community and its love of its logo. According to the unsolicited pamphlet the pro-”Indian” group put through my mail slot, the Dartmouth High School logo is inoffensive towards the Native American community, supported only by the testimony of a few individuals within this community. 

This group also has an unexpectedly high amount of lawn signs. I have seen one single lawn have no less than four of those “Defend Dartmouth” signs; I see no less than seven of them on my way to campus everyday. So many townspeople are vehemently protesting in favor of their precious logo, and I don’t know whether to laugh at them picking this to be their hill to die on or in embarrassment from sharing the same zip code as them because defending the Dartmouth Indian in 2022 is not a good look.

Just to be clear, I live in Dartmouth. I have lived there my whole life. I graduated from Dartmouth High School, after going to Dartmouth Middle School, after going to elementary school on Dartmouth Street. So, know I speak with the voice of a member of this community when I say this logo needs to go. This logo was not intended to be a racist depiction of an Native American individual, let me be perfectly clear; however, since its conception it has been used in ways that are racist and are insulting to the Native Americans. Not by the school itself, mind you, though the way they shill overpriced merchandise bearing the Dartmouth Indian could be seen as a different form of insulting, but rather in more informal and unmoderated settings. I’ve had friends go to school sporting events only to end up morally repulsed when the opposing school targets the Dartmouth mascot for jeering. 

While the usage of the logo in the context of being a sign of strength and pride is (dubiously) applicable within the community itself, outside of this community it is racist. Though I have not bought any Dartmouth merch myself (because it’s about as overpriced as water at Disney), other Dartmouth alumni who have gone to college have worn their Dartmouth shirts and have been told they were “kinda racist,” at least according to one Dartmouth High alum who went out of state for college who shared her college experience in one of those post high school presentations. Even if the intent wasn’t to be offensive, the logo is offensive outside of this constructed context provided by the community, and the views of the larger “outside” world should not be written off so easily as for not understanding the value of the logo within the community. 

The logo may not have been meant to be racist, but yet, it has become just that because its original intent and meaning has been stripped away. No one looks at this logo and sees strength and pride. They look at it and see a disembodied Native American head under the name Christopher Columbus, a controversial figure in his own right for his notorious and cruel subjugation of indiginous peoples, called the local people because the man thought he was in India and no one bothered to correct him. There are none of the initial values still intact in the logo nowadays.

And, I don’t just mean outside of the community either. I went to this high school, and not once were we directly told what the logo actually meant. We just were to accept the existence of the logo as fact and just vibe with it. Quite frankly, even if they did try to explain it, it would only end up being just a middle aged white guy giving a speech on how a depiction of a Native American is supposed to represent strength and pride while honoring the Wampanoag culture to a large room of mostly white people; I guarantee 80% of the students wouldn’t care, 15% would laugh at the sheer irony, and the last 5% frothing at the bit mad. This so-called school spirit in favor of the logo is practically nonexistent. The only reason students actually try during spirit week is because it’s an admittedly heated competition with the other grade levels for bragging rights over who shows more spirit; other than that one week, no one I’ve ever talked to during my four year experience has ever cared about being a Dartmouth “Indian”. Never once have I heard any single student ever be proud of the logo during all my years in the Dartmouth school system.

Even if you don’t think the logo itself is racist, calling a Native American person an “Indian” in 2022 certainly is. It’s an outdated term tied to the systemic oppression and genocide of an indigonous people and heavily associated with European colonialism that resulted in massive casualties, from both conflict and disease, in Native American populations. It’s also a factually incorrect moniker given by Christopher Columbus, who is known for his brutality and abuse towards native peoples in the modern day. (The man wasn’t even the first European to discover America; the Vikings found North America five hundred years earlier. Christopher Columbus was literally the kid who said the joke louder.) 

 A friend of mine from highschool told me, fasciously, the only reason why they might be voting in favor of the Dartmouth “Indian”: because all the other options that have been given are trash. Ergo, I would like to put my own idea in the ring. I nominate that, in honor of Christopher Columbus, we should be called the Dartmouth Mermaids and have our logo be a depiction of a manatee. It has the same energy as the current high school branding.

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