Native American logos still used by some Wisconsin police departments

The governments of the Indigenous nations of Wisconsin are officially opposed to the use of Indigenous mascots and logos by schools and other organizations, but many non-tribal entities continue to use them.

While there has been a concerted effort to demand the removal of these mascots from state schools from groups such as the Wisconsin Indian Education Association, officials say their opposition also extends to the many police departments that use native logos.

“All of the tribes residing in Wisconsin reject discriminatory mascots in the strongest terms,” ​​said Flambeau Lake Ojibwe Nation President John D. Johnson Sr. in images.

Tribal leaders argue that not only is it wrong for non-tribal entities to use logos, but they are also often very inaccurate and stereotypical.

“We encourage communities to walk in our stead,” Johnson said. “Consider how you identify with society and how you would feel to be seen as a caricature of who you are. “

Dr. Belle Ragins, of the UW-Milwaukee Lubar School of Business, has compiled a list of police departments in Wisconsin that use Indigenous logos and has spoken out against them.

Some law enforcement agencies that use native logos are the Barron County Sheriff’s Department, Chippewa Falls Sheriff’s Office, and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. The Pepin County Sheriff’s Office is also on Ragins’ list, but Sheriff Joel Wener said the logo was removed before he came to the department from 1994.

The Kewaskum Police Department logo features an arrowhead and is also on Ragins’ list, but Chief Thomas Bishop questions whether it is based on Native Americans and how it could be interpreted as offensive.

The Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department logo features a profile drawing of a Native American head wearing a feather headdress.

A Sheboygan County Sheriff's Police Car is adorned with a chef's head in the fall of 2019.

While the full hairstyle is a popular image used in Western movies, local historians say it is an inaccurate portrayal of the Indigenous people who lived and still live in and around Wisconsin.

Sheboygan County Sheriff Cory Roeseler defended the use of the logo in Sheboygan Press last year, arguing there was nothing negative about it.

He said he could see how problematic sports mascots can be due to the violent nature of some sports, but that the police are “peacekeepers.”

The patch used on the uniforms of members of the Sheboygan County Sheriff's Department depicts a Native American Chief.

Roeseler said he also recognizes the story of Native Americans in the Sheboygan area who were treated unfairly and pushed back by white settlers.

Tribal leaders argue that logos or mascots do not teach a specific story.

“All native mascots, whatever their intention, present us as sub-humans,” Johnson said. “The argument for conserving Indigenous mascots, however, often centers on the respectful manner, historical significance, and pride communities derive from being known as an Indian or a warrior.

“As personal and proud as some communities are to keep their Native mascots,” Johnson continued, “we as Native Americans revere our heritage and love to share our history and traditions. We refuse, however, to allow our even be used in a way that undermines the very heritage we value.

Ron Pedrys, Chief of Police for the Village of Osceola, said his service began using the Indigenous logo in 2000 and was approved by the Creek Indian Council in Panama City, Florida.

He said there had been no complaints with his department to stop using the patch, but the village was in the early stages of discussing updating the logo by considering a new design.

“A formal timeline has not been developed,” said Pedrys. “Currently, there is no direct response to Wisconsin tribal nations other than the village of Osceola that respects everyone’s history and culture and encourages strong communication with any concerns or opportunities.”

While officials and tribal groups have made it clear to school districts not to use mascots, non-tribal police officials say they have not been informed.

The recent abandonment of Native logos by the Washington football team and the Leinenkugel Beer Company has brought the issue to the fore.

Tomah Police Chief Scott Holum, who was named chief this year, said he has been in the town since 1999 and the police department has used his Indigenous logo since then.

“To my knowledge, no one has made this fix,” he said.

Holum said he plans to seek his advice from the Ho-Chunk Nation.

“I don’t know if it’s a symbol of pride or if it’s seen as derogatory,” he said. “One of the things I want to do is find out how it is perceived.

RELATED: Advocates continue efforts to get Wisconsin school districts to abandon the use of Native American mascots

RELATED: Some say Wisconsin schools shouldn’t use Native American mascots. Why does the Sheboygan County Sheriff have a chef’s head logo?

Tomah is also home to the Ho-Chunk Nation Museum and Cultural Center.

Ryan Greendeer, director of public relations for the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature, said: [basis] is that the Nation passed a resolution that opposes the use of Native American mascots, logos and representations. This would certainly include any government agency, such as law enforcement. “

Daniel Green, lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, said the use of Native American images by non-tribal entities is the same everywhere, describing Native people as archaic, missing modern, feathered and wild, whether noble or ignoble.

“It is not an honor to take on the identity of another,” he said.

Green points to psychological studies showing the harm such images do to children and attributes imagery as one of the reasons for the high suicide rate among Native American teens.

Green said: “I can only conclude that these law enforcement agencies rely on their own ignorance to make decisions and will live in denial of other informed scientific evidence.”

Frank Vaisvilas is a Report for America member of the body based at the Green Bay Press-Gazette covering Native American issues in Wisconsin. He can be reached at 920-228-0437 or [email protected], or on Twitter at @vaisvilas_frank. Please consider supporting the journalism that informs our democracy with a tax-deductible giveaway to this reporting effort on

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