Riding the C train uptown one afternoon, my spouse Charlie nudged me and subtly pointed to the other side of the car. Sitting across from us was a man wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Winchester Sachems,” accompanied by a graphic depicting the profile of what was meant to be an indigenous person in some sort of headdress. I recognized the image immediately. I attended Winchester High School in Massachusetts, and the “Sachem” was our mascot.
Surely, I thought, this could not still be the case. A quick Google search revealed that yes, indeed, the Winchester School Board voted to rebrand and do away with the mascot that had been in place since the 1950’s. Although the leadup to the vote was contentious, the resolution to rebrand passed unanimously…in 2020!!! Conversations about the inappropriateness of such images and the damage they cause have been happening on the national level (with sports teams, if nothing else), since well before 2020. How could it have taken so long for this change to happen?
That’s a rhetorical question. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know the process leading up to the vote, or the means by which my hometown arrived at the new shorthand for groups at the local high school (the “Red and Black”). I do know that the number of people who can claim indigenous ancestry in Winchester has been slim to none for a very long time. Without the voices of those who are directly and negatively affected by stereotypes, change happens slowly—if at all.
The word “sachem” means “leader.” We have an opportunity to hear the voice of Native American leader and Episcopal Bishop Steven Charleston through reading his book “The Four Vision Quests of Jesus.” I hope you will join us this Sunday, August 27 after the 11:00 service, as we gather to discuss this insightful and important contribution to the life of the church.