On a recent Friday evening, the teenage daughter of the then mayor-elect of Morris, Illinois, about 60 miles south-west of Chicago, led her high school’s marching band on to the football field wearing a headdress, face paint and clothes resembling Native regalia.
As the band played the “war cry” for the pre-game event, the student, with her reddish blond hair in braids, stood in a wide stance in the middle of the field with her arms crossed.
It was a familiar scene for Morris Community high school, a school of about 850 students, none of whom are Native, according to a 2019 Illinois report card. Its mascot has long been “the Redskins”, a term widely considered a racial slur against Native Americans.
Current and former students told the Guardian most home football games involve a white student who has been named “chief” dressed in an outfit meant to resemble Native regalia.
But it is this practice, along with the school’s mascot, that Ted Trujillo – considered the only enrolled tribal member of a federally recognized tribe living in the small city and an alumnus of the school – has been fighting against for nearly four decades.
“It’s racist. It’s derogatory. It stereotypes a whole race of people,” Trujillo, 51, told the Guardian. “It appropriates our sacred culture and traditions. A headdress has meaning in the Native world; the regalia, everything has meaning.”
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Photo by All-Pro Reels / Joe Glorioso