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The Other Washington’s Redskins

November 6, 2014

In their first season after a controversial name change from the Redskins to Redhawks, the Port Townsend football team tries to defeat their biggest rivals and unite their fractured community.

Nils Cowan: Nestled between the Olympic mountains and the Puget Sound, the coastal community of Port Townsend is about as far as you can get from the political maneuvering in the other Washington.
But like in most communities across America, the fall season here means one thing for many residents – football.
For the Redhawks of Port Townsend High School, this is one of the biggest weeks in recent memory.

Liam Anderson: This game seals our league championship. We’re in the number one spot in the league right now, and if we beat Chimacum Friday we’ll have that spot.

Keegan Khile: Our next goal is to make it to State. We just keep setting goals and hopefully making them.

Redhawks players at practice for State Championship

Coach Tom Webster: Every team is trying to win the state championship, and is that doable for this team? I think it is.

Nils Cowan: But the team’s spirit and that of its community are still recovering from one of the most turbulent years in the town’s history – before they were known as Redhawks.

Tina Patel, Q13 Fox News : For close to 90 years the mascot for port townsend high school has been the redskins. Many community members want to keep their mascot and they crowded into the port townsend high school auditorium tonight to tell the school board that.

Community members gathered at Port Townsend High to tell the school board they want to keep their mascotWoman: There’s nothing derogatory in our pride of being redskins.

Man: It was so racist in there it was unbelievable. They just don’t get it.

David Engle: When I came to the district a little over two years ago, the board of directors said ‘we need to address this issue. ‘ I thought, ‘well, okay, let’s create a process that’s not damaging to the community, and that stands kind of the test of time.’

Jennifer James-Wilson: Ours is not a community that startles well and never has. We decided as a school board that we would look into the issue, that we would give ourselves some time to examine the issue in a way that was going to be educational.

Nils Cowan: This wasn’t the first time the community had been through this polarizing debate.

Chief Ron Allen: The use of the redskin name is a topic that we have engaged with with the community for many many years.

Nils Cowan: Though the town is less than 5 percent native American, local tribal leaders like Chief Ron Allen of the Jamestown S’Klallam have rallied for decades against the name.

Chief Ron Allen: I mean ‘Redskin’ – if you look at it in the dictionary it’s a very ugly term, it’s a very demeaning and derogatory term, and so our tribe felt that this was a good time, and also the leadership of the Port Townsend community also felt that it was a good time to collaborate with us and engage with all the parties involved.

Nils Cowan: The school board decided to hold a series of open meetings where community members were encouraged to voice their feelings about the change for the historical record.

Mary McQuillen: The name of this school was a good name, and the only reason to take it away would be to shame it.

Chief Ron Allen: Those who were among the alumni of the school you know that had to reflect on it, were not real comfortable with it, some of them still aren’t but nevertheless the majority prevailed.

Nils Cowan: But not all natives in the community were in favor of the change.

Rita Beebe: Hello there, come on in, welcome to my home.

Nils Cowan: Former School Board member Rita Beebe is a descendant of the Bella Coola tribe who comes from a long line of proud native Redskins.

Rita Beebee, School Board member, her daughter Marie, alumni Redskin, and her mother, Betty, also alumni Redskin and cheerleader

Rita Beebe: I’d like to have you meet my family. This is my daughter Marie, alumni Redskin. This is my mother Betty, alumni Redskin, and cheerleader. And this is – well it was, future Redskin and granddaughter Logan. And grandson Tristan who was also hoping to be a Redskin.

Rita Beebe: My name is Rita E. Beebe, formerly Caldwell for people in town. Half Indian half Italian. In the early twenties there was friction between – the Portuguese, the Italians, the Indians. When they decided to have the name redskins it just bonded very quickly and it’s in our traditions, it’s in our local tribal traditions. New board came in, new superintendent, new ideas. They said you’re racist, you’ve been racist, you just didn’t know it so we’re going to change it. How does the American culture again change the idea of the Indian culture and how can we make it right, so we can not have this division in what a name means?

Nils Cowan: The divisive recent history around the mascot had perhaps its most profound effect on students.

Keegan Khile: When it first got brought up, it was, it was hard. It was just different. Our dad was the coach, he couldn’t really voice his opinion.

Jeff Seaton: A group of native Americans would say yeah we’re for it and another would say no we’re against it and you’d have people yelling at the school board and this obviously went on for years.

Lucas Foster: I started to realize that the name change needs to be done because so many people were caring about it too much.

Keegan Khile: We have to change. Sometimes it’s for the better.

Nils Cowan: As their community still deals with the change, students and athletes are hoping to serve as an example for reconciliation by rewriting their recent history.

Scott Wilson: They were the cellar dwellers. They didn’t win any games.

Jeff Seaton: When I was freshman, we went 0 and 9, lost 30 to nothing to Chimacum, that was rough.

Scott Wilson: Their feelings were hurt because of the mascot issue. They’d been beat up in sports over the years, and there was this sense of, when are we going to get our chance? Now they’re winning games, they feel a camaraderie, they feel connected, there’s a sense of pride.

Keegan Khile: There’s something that we’re fighting for now, for the first league champs of the Redhawks.

Scott Wilson: This is the first time in years that we’ve had this opportunity.

Rita Beebe: If they do really well it’ll be a model for the adults to say okay I’m a Redskin, they’re a Redhawk, we can cross the line together and still be one.

Nils Cowan: As Port Townsend prepares for its goal of challenging for the state championship, the community rallying around them is enoying the moment, when differences of opinion are forgotten and everyone has the best interests of the future generation at heart.

Scott Wilson: Our current crop of kids who are in school and the ones who’re coming up through the system, they’re going to be proud to be redhawks. They’re grandparents are redskins and they always will be.

Rita Beebe: When we do something for the kids, we’re doing it for the kids. My hope is that when they finish with the Port Townsend high School, that whichever door they’re looking to go through, their education will get them there.

Jennifer James-Wilson: There is not a day that goes by that I don’t give thanks to have this decision behind us. I love it that we’re at this point ahead of the conversation that’s happening nationally.

Ron Allen: It’s movng forward as a society, and embracing the unique standing of American Indians as governments, as unique communities that didn’t disappear, that their strength, their integrity, who they are as a unique culture has survived.

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Nils Cowan

A native of Calgary, Canada who cut his teeth in the documentary industry of Washington, D.C., Nils moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2009 after working on a National Park Service film about Mt. Rainier and falling in love with the area. He has been producing non-fiction content for thirteen years, from broadcast and independent documentaries to museum films and non-profit PSAs. One of his most recent films, 'Beyond the Visible’ which reveals the inner workings and transformational science of the Very Large Array Telescope in New Mexico, was just awarded the 2014 Cine Golden Eagle Award for non-fiction storytelling.  Nils lives in Seattle with his wife and two kids.

More stories by Nils Cowan

There are 5 comments

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Oh my, first of all thanks for airing this! I am a PTHS Alumni. I have finally been able to embrace the new mascot after much inner turmoil. I honestly can't tell you why it bothers me so very much and why i feel so passionately about the name change. I understand about moving forward now that the decision has been made, especially for the kids up and coming. I have a son who started this year as a Freshman Redhawk and a son who Graduated in 2009 as a Redskin. It was so very hard for me to try and explain to them about the change and what the arguments are. I want to argue back and say to them. Good God, our English language has changed so darn much in the last 50 years and that is why the name Redskins is not and was never used in a derogatory manner. In a nutshell that's it. I now wear Redhawks clothing to show that i support my child and upcoming children who will attend PTHS. It honestly still greats on my nerves inwardly and now in this comment to you. In the deciding meeting those people on the school board were saying things like, just think of how it is teaching the younger elementary kids to be derogatory and the neighboring tribes. This to me was a cop out for the simple fact that I know many many elementary kids that had or have older siblings who were siblings and have been taught to cheer for the Redskins in a very positive way.
I just wanted to let you all know that yes, most of us in the community have "moved forward" as they say. BUT, i'm saddened quite deeply by it still.
thanks for your time.

Thank you, Nils Cowan, for taking the time to present our story in a balanced, thoughtful manner that featured our students' voices. I am so very proud of our students and this community!

I could not agree more David! Thank you Mr. Cowan. Although my family is of the Chimacum 'tribe' we are ALL one family over here. GO REDHAWKS!!

I valued the thoughtful balance of the community voices you brought to the story and the respect you showed to all. The winning football team may be serendipitous but provided a great backdrop to the forward momentum of a vibrant public school community. The student comments were very compelling, perhaps you'll return and cover the educational programs which may be contributing to their sucess.

I still say if we hadn't hired a new Superintendent the name would still be the Redskins. I will never accept the change!

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