Most Dartmouth mascot supporters are either alumni of the Dartmouth schools themselves or have children who play sports or music. For you the mascot is simply a harmless piece of a beautiful town’s background. I get it. I have lived here 30 years, and two of my children attended school here.
But in recent years — with police killings, a commission now considering a new flag and seal to replace a highly offensive one, and corporations finally bowing to the times by getting rid of racist symbols and logos and trying to be more inclusive — not everybody in Dartmouth is happy with change. Least of all the Dartmouth Republicans.
If you’ve been following a group called “Defend Dartmouth,” you must have noticed by now that the entire organization is a creation of the Dartmouth Republican Town Committee (DartRTC). You heard me right: the entire leadership of Defend Dartmouth is drawn from the 13 members of the DartRTC. Even the referendum you are about to vote on is the creation of the Dartmouth Republican Committee hiding behind a fig leaf provided by local Republicans with Aquinnah ties.
Both John Haran and Jacob Ventura, who openly boast that the referendum was their handiwork, sit on the Dartmouth Republican Town Committee, as does George Marcotte, who poses as Defend Dartmouth’s public face. DartRTC members Xiaoqin Shelley Zhang and Chris Pereira — who often seems to speak for the Aquinnah leadership — have taken to editorial pages and airwaves to flog the group’s message.
When Defend Dartmouth asks for your donations, they are collected by Anedot, a payment processor used by far-right Republicans. The address of the “Defend Dartmouth Ballot Question Committee” is the home address of DartRTC member Michael Mattos.
DartRTC-“adjacent” members of the Aquinnah have jumped in as well. In fact, without this collaboration, their entire campaign would not be possible.
Aquinnah tribal council member and New Bedford City Councilor Naomi Carney — who works for far-right sheriff and DartRTC member Tom Hodgson — has appeared on WBSM to chat up her family’s connections to the mascot. Her brother Clyde Andrews, a local football legend who claims to have designed the mascot 50 years ago, is also on board. Carney’s son Sean — who tried and failed in his own City Council run — claims to speak for the Aquinnah but sounds much more like a Trump Republican.
Jacob Ventura, who ran for state Senate on an anti-immigration platform, claims to speak for all Wampanoag, even as Aquinnah members outside his small group repeatedly challenge his and the Aquinnah chairwoman’s right to speak for the tribe on this issue. Ventura apparently thinks so little of other tribes’ views on cultural appropriation that he and John Haran decided that Dartmouth’s 91% white population ought to decide the mascot’s fate instead of them.
The DartRTC, through its “Defend Dartmouth” cutout, has attacked Dartmouth School Committee members, liberals, academics, and non-supporters for being “outsiders” or not being Native Americans. Nowadays, Republicans just can’t help using MAGA phrases like “woke,” “elites,” and “cancel culture.”
The DartRTC has threatened to replace School Committee members by election or recall, and they have asked candidates to sign pledges. All of this is straight out of the Tea Party playbook. The DartRTC even fielded their own anti-“Critical Race Theory,” anti-VAX, and anti-mandate candidate.
So, Dartmouth voters, when you go to the polls on April 5, be aware of who and what you are really voting for. If you are an alumnus or a parent of kids in marching band or in sports, think of what taking the “Indian” to an away game means for others. Think of what it means to the majority of Native Americans who find — not the image itself — but someone else’s misuse of their culture deeply offensive.
For Dartmouth Republicans this may be a culture war, but for you it ought to be a matter of respecting human dignity and treating neighbors and Native Americans with a little respect.
David Ehrens is a Dartmouth resident and one of The New Bedford Light’s founders; views expressed here are his alone. The Light is an independent nonprofit, nonpartisan community news site. Board members, founders and donors do not have any influence over content.