Totem Middle School is at 26630 40th Ave. S., in Kent. COURTESY PHOTO, Totem Middle School Facebook page

Totem Middle School is at 26630 40th Ave. S., in Kent. COURTESY PHOTO, Totem Middle School Facebook page

Totem Middle School in Kent to undergo name, mascot change

Tribal leaders told Federal Way district the school name is ‘a misrepresentation of a spiritual term’

After consulting with local tribal leaders, Totem Middle School in Kent will soon undergo a name and school mascot change.

Federal Way Public Schools announced on June 11 the decision to change the school’s name and mascot. Totem Middle School, 26630 40th Ave. S., was built in 1963 and its mascot is the Thunderbirds. The school is on Kent’s West Hill but part of the Federal Way district.

The middle school is being rebuilt, along with six other Federal Way schools.

Signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on April 26, House Bill 1356 prohibits the “inappropriate use of Native American names, symbols, or images as public school mascots, logos, or team names,” according to the bill.

In Federal Way, three middle schools use Native American imagery, including the Illahee Braves, Sacajawea Warriors and Totem Thunderbirds.

In addition to the new law, the construction timeline made the renaming of Totem Middle School a top priority, said Superintendent Tammy Campbell.

Since April, discussions with local tribal leaders and five meetings have been held with Native community leaders to talk about the statutory requirements of reviewing team names and mascots and whether they should be renamed, the district’s June 11 newsletter stated.

“These conversations surfaced long-standing hurt and impacts to our Native American communities, and some of what was discussed was the use of the name ‘Totem’ as a school name,” the newsletter continued.

“Totem” is a sacred symbol in Native culture and is frequently appropriated for use in stereotypical images, therefore using Totem as a school name is a “misrepresentation of a spiritual term,” the district said.

For comparison, the district said Native community leaders told Campbell this name is similar to naming a school “crucifix,” without any education or connection to Christianity.

“After listening to these concerns, Campbell has made the decision to rename Totem Middle School,” the newsletter stated.

In renaming the middle school and selecting a new mascot, the process will center on student input and include insight from school staff and community. The name and mascot change is estimated to be completed by December 2021.

Because the school is still in the process of being rebuilt, the district has put a hold on any formal signage until a new name is selected, said Kassie Swenson, chief of communications and strategy for the district.

The hold helps to mitigate costs, and if necessary, the district will use temporary signage until the name change is made, she added.

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