Wasilla High School is altering the logo of its warrior mascot, but not changing the mascot or logo from depicting an indigenous person, as some other sports teams have done recently.
With input from the local Knik Tribe, a working group redrew the Wasilla High warrior to be the Dena’ina Athabascan Chief Wasilla, who is the community’s namesake and lived in the area more than a hundred years ago, rather than a Lakota Sioux warrior.
Knik Tribal Council CEO Richard Porter says their hope is to educate people.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Richard Porter: You can walk down the street here and have a conversation with anybody and ask where and why is the City of Wasilla named Wasilla, and 90 to 95% wouldn’t be able to answer that question. And that’s the reason why we’re putting up a kiosk in the school to be able to show where the namesake came from, and explain Chief Wasilla and his life and him as a Dena’ina chief and as a Dena’ina warrior for the people of this area.
Casey Grove: That’s interesting, instead of just completely changing what the mascot was going to be, where there have been a number of sports teams that have done that, whether it’s at the professional level or below. I wonder, how does that change at Wasilla High School, with the logo fit into that broader context?
RP: You know, it’s funny, I just kind of wanted to look nationally at what people had depicted were quote unquote “mascots” and names that were affiliated with Native Americans or First Alaskan people. And the largest one surprisingly, it was warriors.
And I guess my council, my leadership, when it was brought up, didn’t quite understand that. I mean, you look at the first responders that we had during this pandemic. The first responder warriors we had, the people serving overseas and abroad to protect this country and the warriors that they are, or the people that band together to help each other get out of addiction, they become addiction warriors together.
So I guess I didn’t understand how Native Americans have a monopoly on quote unquote “the warrior market.” So we wanted to make sure that we separated those issues in our talks with the Mat-Su Borough School District and our talk with Wasilla High and the administration over there.
We felt there was a great amount of pride within the school, being called the Warriors, and that when those kids move on in life, they are going to be a warrior of some sort of theirselves, and they carried a lot of pride in that. And so we weren’t interested in changing that name.
CG: Has it been controversial? Have people been critical about this and if so, why?
RP: You know, that’s the divisive world we live in right now, locally, nationally and globally. I mean, I wish I had an answer to that question. All you have to do is look at, you know, the Facebook logs — saying that the Knik tribe doesn’t speak for everybody in the Valley, and the Mat- Su Borough doesn’t speak for the Native Americans, and don’t change the logo at all. I mean there were all kinds of controversial remarks, like anything else.
Yeah, it was controversial. The reason — I just don’t think you’re going to ever make everybody happy. Especially something like this. I mean, we understood as a tribe, in my leadership, that in looking at it, there was not enough to bite into there when it comes to “warriors.” We didn’t feel like we had a monopoly on that market, and that wasn’t controversial within my leadership. So, when it was proposed that the actual name “the Warriors” stay there, it was unanimous amongst our leadership here at Knik Tribe.
CG: You know what you said about you’re not always going to be able to make everybody happy all the time — in considering that this was a collaborative effort with different parties involved, at the end of the day, are you happy? I guess I mean, is the Knik Tribe happy about the outcome here?
RP: Baby steps, Casey. I think things that make people unhappy are really percolating to the top. You know, as Knik Tribe moves forward with that compassion, precision, and most importantly subtlety in the programs that we are able to serve everyone, not just our Native American and Alaska peoples, but everyone in the community, that’s when we’ve seen the best success.
So, you know in moving forward, we’re really happy with this baby step. You know, because a lot of time you’re taking ‘em inch by inch. You get an opportunity to turn around behind you and then you realize how far you’ve come. We’ll take it.