RED LODGE — Mike Jetty wanted to get the point across.
"This is historic," he said.
Speaking to students at Red Lodge High on Monday afternoon, Jetty, an American Indian education specialist for the Montana Office of Public Instruction, praised the school community for dropping its mascot, the Redskin, last month.
After spirited debate and a series of emotionally charged meetings, the Red Lodge School District board voted unanimously in February to retire the mascot and start the process of selecting a new one.
A few weeks later, the school's principal, Rex Ternan, contacted OPI and requested that Jetty come and make a presentation to the students.
He was joined Monday by Don Wetzel, statewide youth and community outreach coordinator for OPI, and Dulce Whitford, Indian education specialist for Billings School District 2. All three are of American Indian descent.
"It's really groundbreaking work you've done," Whitford told the students.
In his hour-long presentation, Jetty taught the students about perspective when it comes to cultural relations in Montana. He asked the students if they'd ever heard disparaging remarks made against women, against men, against teachers, against American Indians, against Caucasians.
"No matter who we are, we're all working on these issues," he told them.
The presentation that Jetty gave is based on curriculum he wrote for OPI entitled "Indian Mascots for All?" Jetty said the idea is that Indian-themed mascots don't necessarily have to go away.
"It doesn't have to be either/or," he told the students. "We can rethink them."
The goal is to get people thinking about Indian stereotypes that might otherwise go unnoticed, a part of greater American hegemony, he said.
Students sitting through the presentation were impressed. Zoe Contreras, a junior, said she'd sat through these types of presentations before, but this time the message really seemed to sink in.
"I really liked that," she said.
"Helps reassure us that we made the right decision," said Kathleen Russo, a senior.
As part of the program, Jetty, Whitford and Wetzel presented the school with a special blanket to acknowledge what the school has done and to thank the community.
Many of the students felt self-conscious about their mascot — especially at games against reservation schools — and never really latched on it, Russo said.
"It was very hard to show school spirit," added Tori Prophet, a senior.
Now, with a new mascot in the works, the students feel they'll have ownership in the school and a way to express who they are as a student body.
"You've changed history," Wetzel told them.