JOHNSON COUNTY, KS (KCTV) – Under the cover of darkness a group of Johnson County residents placed more than 100 rocks throughout the grounds surrounding Shawnee Mission School District’s Center for Academic Achievement.
The rocks are covered in portraits from photographer Shane Balkowitsch. His website features more than 400 portraits of living Native American people.
Photos show some of the rocks along the campus walking trails.
Members of the group did not want to be identified, except for one. 11-year-old Halley Vincent is leading the push for change in her school district.
Vincent said she wants Native American mascots stripped from schools. She’s starting with a campaign to get rid of the Shawnee Mission North Indians, her future high school.
“It’s kind of like they just took the culture,” Vincent said. “And, shrunk them down.”
In some instances, to the size of cartoons. One afternoon Vincent sat down on a park bench, flipping through old Shawnee Mission yearbooks from the late 1940’s. Many of the pages were filled with depictions of Native people made to look unintelligent and abnormally large in stature.
“They’re showing them like they are dumb,” Vincent said. “Like they don’t know anything.”
Vincent said she has spent time learning about the history of native people in what is now Shawnee. Most of her knowledge of her stepfather’s heritage is from outside the classroom.
In addition to pushing for the removal of Native American mascots Halley wants other students to learn more about the people who lived on this land before Kansas was even a state.
“You shouldn’t have to have a big group or a big group discussion to change something,” Vincent said.
Although it looks like the school district is planning on discussing mascots at its next meeting on November 16, 2020.
“It’s something I want changed before I go to school there. I don’t want it to be an existing thing while I’m there,” Vincent said. “It’s not appropriate. It’s really rude.”
Now, Vincent is taking this issue into her own hands. She’s writing letters to people throughout the KC community, asking for their personal experiences with Indigenous mascots.
“I’m looking for a letter of support and encouragement from you,” Vincent said while reading a letter she wrote to a Haskell Indian Nations University Professor.
“It’s really easy for people to look at an email and throw it away, delete it,” Vincent said. “It’s also easy to look at a letter and say there weren’t very many, so you don’t need to pay attention to it.”
Vincent said she is compiling all of the letters she receives into a book she’ll deliver to the school board.
The anonymous group Halley belongs to also wrote a letter, explaining their position.
“I urge you Ms. Ousley, that discontinuing use of Native mascots in our district cannot wait,” said a member of the group while reading the letter aloud. “Our district’s depiction of Native people does not honor the tribal nations who came before us, nor those who continue to survive.”
KCTV5 News reached out to the Board president asking about the letter the group sent her. Heather Ousley said she hasn’t received the letter yet.
Halley set up a P.O. box so she can safely receive letters from people in the community. Her address is 6201 Nieman Rd, #3354, Shawnee, Kansas 66203.