North Summit dedicates ‘Washakie Field,’ a culmination of discussions regarding ‘Braves’ name and traditions

High school’s teams to remain ‘Braves,’ some traditions seen as disrespectful have been ended

The North Summit School District hosted members of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe at a ceremony Wednesday night, including George Abeyta, pictured. The district committed to carrying on with the “Braves” team name while honoring the tribe and dedicated the high school’s sports field to 19th-century Shoshone Chief Washakie, Abeyta’s great-great-grandfather.
Alexander Cramer/Park Record

Most of the cars filling the North Summit High School parking lot Wednesday night had homecoming messages on their windows, the handwritten words illuminated by the sun that was setting behind the ledges around Coalville. A fall chill urged on a few stragglers as they walked toward the auditorium for the annual alumni assembly.

This year’s ceremony was going to be different. Though it would honor those who graduated decades ago, as always, it would also feature the culmination of an effort to reposition the school’s Native American-inspired mascot and traditions in a broader cultural conversation that has prompted many schools, sports teams and other organizations in recent years to shed symbols seen as offensive.

Members of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe were invited to the assembly as honored guests, participating in a ceremony dedicating the high school’s sports field to 19th-century Shoshone Chief Washakie. They also heard a commitment from the North Summit School District that it would keep the Braves name for sports teams, but do so while incorporating the lessons learned during a recent effort to examine the school’s practices.

George Abeyta, a great-great-grandson of Chief Washakie, spoke to the crowd about the importance of honoring ancestors and traditions.

“Throughout the walks of life, respect is something that is not always given, but is almost always earned. You have earned my respect for your desire as a school to follow the proper protocols and to honor the indigenous people of the North Summit Valley,” he said. “It would’ve been easy, or maybe not so easy, to give up the name Braves. … But with honor, and with courage, and with wisdom and with respect, you chose to hang on to this name that you proudly represented through generations.”

North Summit High School has fielded teams called the Braves for 100 years or more. School officials indicated the district has taken steps in recent years to end traditions that were seen as disrespectful to Native American culture, including a “tomahawk chop” at sports games and a mascot dressed as a Native American.

In recent months, officials impaneled a committee to discuss the school’s team name and mascot. The committee worked with a liaison of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, according to minutes from a Board of Education meeting. The committee chair, Kathy Chappell, indicated in an interview that the Brave symbolism is intertwined with the community’s identity.

“Our mascot isn’t just a name and an image. It runs very deep,” she said. “It’s part of who we are. … My dad, even in his 90s, still spoke with fondness of being a North Summit Brave.”

Native American symbols dot the high school walls, including a logo featuring a Native American man with feathers and necklaces, depictions of Native American painted in the center of class photos from the 1980s and Native American figures on the walls of the auditorium.

Chappell said that on special occasions like homecoming, a school mascot would dress up in a buckskin outfit and lead the football team on horseback onto the field, sometimes throwing a flaming spear into the ground.

Chappel and other officials said the district would no longer allow the mascot to dress as a Native American. The horseback ride onto the field ended when artificial turf was installed in recent years, she added.

The tomahawk chop has also ended, with cheerleaders and students no longer leading the chant at games, she said.

Chappell said the district has always tried to be respectful of the culture the Brave represents.

“We wanted to make sure that we are correctly aligned with the Native American culture,” she said. “… We are just so proud of our school and so proud to have a connection with Native American culture.”

Abeyta, dressed in Native American regalia, talked of the example Chief Washakie set as a warrior who led his people in a time of transition.

“He knew that the coming of the white man was too great for his people to fight,” Abeyta said. “He knew that he would become friends with the white man. And friends he did become.”

After Abeyta’s speech, he and his sister’s granddaughter performed separate Native American dances accompanied by a Native American singer, to which the audience enthusiastically responded.

Superintendent Jerre Holmes indicated Washakie set an example school leaders would try to emulate.

His voice at times breaking, Holmes read a proclamation unanimously approved by the Board of Education officially announcing the new name of the high school’s athletic field.

“On behalf of the people of the North Summit School District, along with their Eastern Shoshone friends,” Holmes said, pausing to collect himself, “do hereby declare the athletic field on the campus of North Summit High School, where it rests now and where it might rest in future years, to be named on this day, Sept. 29, 2021, Washakie Field.”

George Abeyta, a great-great-grandson of Chief Washakie, signs a proclamation naming the North Summit High School athletic field ‘Washakie Field’ during a ceremony Wednesday night.
Alexander Cramer/Park Record

The audience gave a standing ovation as several officials signed the proclamation, including Abeyta; his mother, an Eastern Shoshone elder; Holmes and the chair of the Board of Education.

North Summit cheerleaders then took the stage and officials announced a pep rally ahead of Friday’s homecoming football game.

“We are North Summit!” the cheerleaders said. “We are the Braves!”

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