Future high school will have different name

Menominee Nation High School moniker came through club’s efforts, research
By: 
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

The Keshena community has endured for decades with having a high school with Indian as part of its name.

No more.

When it opens later this year, the new high school will be known as Menominee Nation High School, ending an era of having a name that many tribal members feel diminishes and denigrates its people. It was all made possible because of a mission that the high school’s human rights club went on in the last couple of years.

The Menominee Indian School Board approved the name change earlier this year after the club gathered 183 student signatures on a petition and surveyed community members to see what the name change should be.

Colt Denny, a senior with the human rights club, noted that the effort to make the change started his sophomore year. He said it was important to him that the new high school building, which is expected to be completed later in 2024, did not have to bear the Indian name.

“As time evolves, words can have new meaning,” Denny said. “‘Indian’ refers to someone … on the other side of the world in India. We’re natives, native to this land — Native American, not Indians. So we wanted to remove that because it was offensive to our culture.”

According to Miklo Guzman, another human rights club member, it’s unclear how the high school got stuck with the name Menominee Indian, with the school district established in the 1970s, but it’s believed that the school had to be named that way.

“Back in the day, the contract with our tribal members … it says Indian on it, so they thought the high school had to be Indian, too,” Guzman said. “We found out it doesn’t have to be Indian, so we could change it. So that’s what we did.”

Denny said having the Indian name really hit home for him and Guzman, both football players, when they played in an away game, instead of having the team introduced as the Menominee Eagles, they were introduced as the Menominee Indians. Having mascots with the Indian name has been a subject of contention across the state and nation, and Denny recalled how degrading it felt to be called an Indian at a sporting event.

“It was a problem for a long time, but I’m glad we finally fixed it,” Denny said.

For Guzman, who graduates next month, changing the name is a crowning achievement for his four years in high school.

“I feel good knowing I’m leaving behind something good and that other kids might pick up on it and follow the footsteps,” Guzman said.

Taking Indian out of the high school’s name is not a recent concept, according to Wendell Waukau, Menominee Indian School District superintendent. He noted that folks have wanted the name to change for at least 25 years, when he was the high school principal.

“It’s not something we haven’t discussed,” Waukau said. “The way I have felt about it was, if it was ever going to come up, it would need to come from the students. Because of the work that was done by the human rights club, it just lined up perfectly. The students had to research. They were out there educating the community, the state, the nation.”

The high school name change could only be the beginning, though. Plans are in the works to change the name of the elementary and middle schools, with the latter still having Indian in the name. After that, it’s possible the district’s name will change, as well, to take Indian out.

Megan Willard, adviser for the human rights club, noted that the club’s focus originally was on changing the high school’s name without regard to the other entities bearing the Indian name, but when it was realized the name of the high school would differ from the name of the middle school and the district itself, the scope expanded.

“We surveyed later once the school board asked us to come up with a name,” Willard said.

She noted that middle school officials are in favor of removing Indian from the school’s name, and she believes staff will take steps to change the name.

“It’s a logical step to have the school board to follow through with the middle school,” Willard said. “The school board is in charge of the district, so whatever path they take; we engaged the community with this survey, and the community gave a lot of feedback to them at various meetings.”

Waukau noted that the school board tasked the club with engaging with the middle and elementary schools first to gauge interest in a name change. He said once that was done, then the board would take up whether to change the district’s name.

“The board told them to get more input from the community on the high school, and they did that,” Waukau said. “What the board wants them to do is to follow that same process with the other two schools.”

Guzman is hopeful that the other schools can get new names, as well, even though he won’t be part of it because of graduation.

“I’m really hoping other kids will come and join this club and take over what we started,” Guzman said.

lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com