In recent years, there has been an ongoing debate about whether or not Lewis & Clark should ditch the pioneer mascot. To some students, having the pioneer as our mascot embodies colonialism, as the term “pioneer” is often negatively associated with colonizers who stole land from Indigenous people. While this reason to change our mascot is completely understandable, another solution to settle the dispute may be to reinterpret the mascot, as the term can apply in numerous contexts that do not specifically refer to settler colonialism.
In a literal sense, a pioneer is someone who discovers something new. While the first thought of a pioneer would pop up as an explorer or colonizer who “discovers” land, it can also apply to an inventor, a philosopher, a scientist, a student or anyone who develops, tries or finds something new, whether that is an invention or an idea. Furthermore, the term can also apply to a member of an infantry group preparing roads or terrain for the main body of soldiers. Honestly, I would feel honored to be called a “pioneer” if I invented something new, came up with a new idea or were someone on the front lines who prepared roads for our troops. However, whoever decided to make the pioneer our mascot did not consider the other meanings behind the term.
The problem is that our mascot was created based on settler colonialism, in accordance with the historic meaning of the school’s name. When the pioneer was chosen as the school mascot, it was obvious that it was created in reference to explorers who pillaged Indigenous land and were responsible for the mass genocide of Indigenous people. Because of this dark association, it is reasonable for students to consider the pioneer a racist mascot.
However, it is worth noting that there is an abundance of college and professional sports mascots that may not seem too controversial and can still be negatively associated with genocide, imperialism or other forms of violence. One example is the Major League Baseball team the San Diego Padres, which I am a big fan of since I am from San Diego. Although the vast majority of San Diegans, like me, are generally unbothered by its name, the Padres are not entirely free from negative connotations. After all, the Padres refer to the Spanish friars who founded the historic Mission San Diego de Alcalá as the foundation of San Diego, who also forcefully converted the native Kumeyaay tribe to Christianity. Despite this, the team name still lacks accusations of glorifying imperialism, as San Diego is home to a significant Catholic community.
To conclude, I think it is worth considering keeping the pioneer as our mascot, yet repurposing it with a more positive connotation through rebranding. It can refer to us students as we come to LC to learn, find or try new things. However, I would not have a problem if LC decides to change the mascot if too many students and faculty are uncomfortable with having the pioneer as our mascot. If reinterpreting our mascot is not enough to satisfy the student body, LC has every right to change it.