Like their football team’s defenses during recent gridiron glory days, a growing group of Canton High School alums are making what amounts to a last-minute goal-line stand against Plymouth-Canton Schools administrators who are determined to retire the school’s 50-year-old “Chiefs” name and imagery.
Opponents of the nickname/logo change are expected to show up en masse for Tuesday’s Plymouth-Canton Schools Board of Education meeting set for 7 p.m. on the second floor of the district’s headquarters, located at 454 Harvey Street in Plymouth, to deliver heartfelt reasons why the high school should maintain Chiefs as its nickname.
A vote of school board members to finalize the change is expected to take place during the meeting.
The idea to change the Canton High School mascot and logo was sparked in February of 2021 when a Salem student delivered a 20-minute presentation during a virtual board of education meeting (the meeting was virtual because COVID-19 meeting restrictions were still in place), stating that — based on research and interviews she conducted — the Chiefs mascot and logo (an arrowhead) were demeaning to Native Americans.
Survey says … keep the Chiefs
Several months after the presentation, the board of education created a committee made up of 16 community members to study the proposal and report back with a recommendation for the school board to consider.
The committee recommended retiring the Chiefs nickname and imagery, although the recommendation was not unanimous.
Superintendent Monica Merritt explained that if Tuesday night’s action item of retiring the name and logo passes, students from all three Plymouth-Canton Educational Park high schools will decide the new name and imagery.
Class of ’75
Cam Miller, a member of Canton High School’s first graduating class (1975), was one of the 16 committee members and one of at least two committee members to vote in favor of keeping the Chiefs nickname.
“It became pretty obvious to me right away that most of the committee was hand-picked by the district,” said Miller.
“We were given a homework assignment after every meeting. For our first assignment, we were asked to select what Canton’s nickname should be. Chiefs wasn’t one of the options.”
Miller said the committee worked diligently to develop an accurate, thought-provoking survey, the results of which showed approximately 70% of 6,206 respondents — and 82 of 88 of respondents who reported they were of Native American heritage — voted to keep Chiefs and the arrowhead imagery.
“When the results of the survey came back overwhelmingly supporting keeping Chiefs as the nickname, one committee member said, ‘Well (the results) prove we live in a racist community’,” Miller said.
“The committee members were all for the survey when they thought the results would align with their beliefs. When it didn’t, they didn’t like it.”
Those who want Chiefs to stay emphasize the word is a symbol of leadership and that the arrowhead logo signifies moving forward.
Additional rallying points for proponents of keeping the Chiefs nickname is the cost associated with rebranding.
Okemos (Mich.) Public Schools’ recent decision to change its nickname from Chieftains to Wolves (replacing names and imagery on scoreboards, gym floors and uniforms, to name a few items) cost over $400,000, half of which will be paid for by the Native American Heritage Fund.
Miller said if the Canton High School nickname/imagery was anything like Redskins or the cartoonish Cleveland Indians’ former mascot Chief Wahoo — two professional sports organizations that have recently rebranded — he’d be all for changing things up.
“But this is a case of canceling culture just to cancel culture,” he said. “It’s frustrating, but unfortunately a sign of the times.”
The daughter of two Canton graduates and mother of a current and future Canton student, Canton High School graduate Shannon Balog has joined other community members and alums in an effort to save the Chiefs nickname.
‘Educate Not Eradicate’
Balog said the fact that her stepfather, Steve Robb, is against the name/imagery change — and he is of Native American heritage — and that the Native American Guardians Association is 100% for maintaining Native American imagery — NAGA’s motto is “Educuate Not Eradicate” — are two reasons she’s against eradicating the Chiefs nickname/imagery.
“Central Michigan University partnered with the Chippewa tribe to educate people and keep Chippewas as the name,” Balog said. “Why can’t we do the same thing?
“I’m not Native American so I can’t say I’m offended by the name and imagery, so let’s have discussions with members of our community who are and see how they feel. Judging by the survey results, a vast majority have no issues with it.”
Balog believes there are far too many other issues the school district should be focusing its attention on rather than retiring Chiefs.
“I feel the duties of the school board are to ensure that our children are safe and that they’re getting the best education possible,” Balog said. “Not this stuff.”
Inconsistencies with name
Balog pointed out that the titles of three high-ranking Plymouth-Canton Schools decision-makers start with “Chief”: Chief Academic & Innovation Officer, Chief Finance & Operation Officer and Chief Human Resources Officer.
“They lead their departments, so they’re chiefs, they’re leaders — there’s nothing wrong with it,” Balog said. “So why is there a problem with Chiefs as the school’s nickname?”
Miller said he’s hopeful the board of education will vote to maintain the Chiefs name, but not optimistic.
“I may be wrong,” Miller said, “but if a million people showed up Tuesday night and spoke in favor of keeping Chiefs, the board would still change it.”