Shared from the 5/29/2019 The Providence Journal eEdition


West Kingston Fire’s Native American mascot draws criticism

‘A warrior definitely doesn’t look like that,’ says a town resident


A parade float with a statue that resembles this Native American character, which is on a sign at the West Kingston fire station, has sparked a controversy in town. [THE




SOUTH KINGSTOWN — When Susana Vazquez saw a West Kingston Fire Department float carrying a statue of a Native American holding a flathead fire axe coming down the street during the South Kingstown Memorial Day parade, her immediate thought was, who signed off on this?

“Honestly, the first thing that came to mind was, who let this go through?” said Vazquez, 34, of South Kingstown, who was at the parade on Monday with her children.

The appearance of the statue at the parade struck many as offensive and sparked a debate on social media about the appropriateness of using a stereotypical image of a Native American as a mascot.

“In my Native American culture, a warrior definitely doesn’t look like that,” said Vazquez, who shares heritage with the Narragansett, Pequot and Taíno indigenous peoples.

A statement issued by the Union Fire District of South Kingstown said that the district’s board of wardens had been made aware of a social media discussion about the float, but that the board had no official comment. The West Kingston Fire Department is a volunteer department within the Union Fire District.

Because the board of wardens is a public entity, no collective discussion on the topic can take place until the issue is placed on a meeting agenda, subject to open meetings laws, according to the statement.

“In the interim, the District’s Fire Chief and Administrator will be meeting with West Kingston Fire Station’s leadership to review the issues raised in the online discussion,” the statement says. “Persons wishing to be heard on the issue may submit written correspondence to the following address: Board of Wardens, Union Fire District, 131 Asa Pond Rd., Wakefield, RI 02879.”

Vazquez said the mascot’s depiction played into offensive racial stereotypes that have been used throughout history to mock and subjugate indigenous people.

“You’re misrepresenting their culture; you’re misrepresenting who they are,” she said.

Vazquez said she does not feel that the situation warrants an apology from the West Kingston Fire Department. But she said she hopes that members of the department will be open to listening to community members who find the mascot offensive and be willing to change it.

She was also disappointed in some of the comments she received on a post she published about the float on Facebook. Some people commented that she was being too sensitive or a crybaby, she said.

“At the end of the day, you might not think that’s a problem but to the person whose culture that’s coming from, it is a problem,” she said. “The whole thing was just distasteful to me.”

— mlist@providence

(401) 277-7121 On Twitter: @ madeleine_list

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