MERIDIAN TOWNSHIP, MI - Okemos Public Schools will no longer identify as the Chiefs, a name adopted after the legacy of Chief Okemos, Chief of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe.
The history of Chief Okemos runs deep in Meridian Township. Many community members have spent years retelling his story of leadership to friends and family. However, with the focus of systematic racism and social injustice around the country, the Okemos Public School Board of Education unanimously voted to leave behind the ‘Chiefs’ nickname.
Superintendent of Schools, John Hood, says this process can be traced back to the 1980s when the Okemos Public Schools nickname and logo, at the time a Native American silhouette, was first questioned. After a majority of the committee voted to phase out the ‘Chief’ and ‘Chieftains’ nickname, it was recommended that the Board of Education defer judgement.
It wasn't until 2004 that the board committed to predominately using the ‘Chiefs’ nickname rather than ‘Chieftains’, along with eliminating the Native American silhouette.
In 2011 a school store ordered merchandise that included the Native American silhouette, which caused the Board of Education to review the matter once again.
The Board then developed a formal resolution to issue. The resolution included the elimination of all instances of the Native American silhouette, Native American symbols, chants, dress, etc.
With the Board’s vision statement of ‘Leading in Educational Equity’ in mind, Superintendent John Hood established a Mascot Study Committee in the winter of 2020.
The decision to change the Okemos Public School’s nickname has received mixed reviews around Meridian Township. Community members who disagree with the Board’s decision have expressed their concern at the last two Okemos Board of Education meetings.
“We have heard from a lot of people who are supporting the change, and we have heard from people voicing their upset with the change,” said Hood. “That really just goes to show the historical divisiveness of this issue.”
The budget for this change caused concern for some community members, estimated to be over $427,000 dollars. Okemos Public School Board of Education received a $213,000 dollar grant from the Native American Heritage Fund (NAHF) that will help offset the costs. This is the highest grant the NAHF awarded this year.
As of now, the School Board plans to develop a committee to choose a new nickname. The School Board will be working with current students, alumni, and other community members throughout the entire process.
For more information on Chief Okemos and the School Board's decision visit the Okemos Public School's website below.