Why Maine West's Warrior Mascot Survives

Article excerpt

Byline: Dwayne T. Wong Daily Herald Staff Writer

Lately, when it comes to the University of Illinois, there is only one national story that can supercede the men's NCAA top- seeded basketball team - the furor over Chief Illiniwek, the school's mascot.

In Naperville, the Redskins became the Red Hawks. In far west suburban Huntley, the hometown Redskins are similarly threatened. At Niles West High School in Skokie, the district eliminated the Indians last year and now students cheer "Go Big Red!" or "Go West!"

In a public climate where the use of American Indian caricatures as school logos is increasingly frowned on, how is it the Maine West Warrior has survived - even thrived?

Paul Leathem, principal of the 41-year-old Des Plaines high school, says the Warrior will stay. Maine West is the last remaining high school in the Northwest suburbs that uses an American Indian theme.

Maine West treats Native American lore with reverence, not exploitation, Leathem said. Large murals cover the hallway walls, depicting Native Americans in dignified poses, not warlike stances. Buffalo dot the landscapes. The murals were a $10,000 gift from the Class of 1997.

"We've tried to use the spirit of Native Americans and their best qualities to promote higher student achievement," Leathem said. School leaders have tied the Warrior mascot to words like "truthfulness," "courage" and "hope," he said.

In 1994, Mary Littlefield Lundgren, poet laureate emeritus of the Cherokee Nation, presented Maine West with a copy of her poem "Fallen Feather" in recognition of respect Maine West displayed for the Native American culture.

Littlefield Lundgren said she felt, then, that Maine West's portrayal of Native Americans was respectful - at least compared to other schools that call themselves Redskins, or celebrate only the warlike aspects of Native American culture.

On Tuesday, she said she still believes Maine West does not offend Native Americans. But she questions why, in general, her people are singled out to be school mascots. …