Statistics Across the Country
In addition to understanding the first people's view of the issue, I think it is important to understand the history of the area.
The primary aboriginal tribe of the Merrimack Valley were the Penacook. They were Algonquin speaking and semi-nomadic, moving seasonally according to food supply and shelter needs. That said, they didn't travel tremendously far and were also good farmers who had cleared swaths of land for agricultural purposes. Their main settlement was at Pawtucket (near the falls). It's not exactly fair to pick one exact location as they did move around some. Generally, though they settled around the area we know as the Pawtucket Falls today.
Between the early 1600s and about 1650, old-world (brought from Europe) disease hit hard. Small pox, influenza, diphtheria. Some estimate that this reduced local indigenous population by about 90 percent. Surveys indicate the population dwindled from around three thousand to two or three hundred during this time. Exact numbers are difficult to come by and others estimate around 500. In any case, illness hit hard and killed many.
Shrinking numbers made the Penacook more vulnerable to attack. The Micmac, Narraganset, and groups from the Eastern edge of the Iroquois Confederacy all harassed the Penacook. They built a fort at what is now known as Fort Hill for protection from these raids.
Some spread to Wamesit, which was a village granted to the Penacook by the Massachusetts General Assembly in the mid 1600s. The village was known as a "praying town" because the purpose of its establishment was for the conversion to Christianity. The colonists made promises of protection.
Wamesit was on the Merrimack between the Chelmsford and Billerica land grants and butted up against the settlement at Pawtucket. In other words, most of what we know as North Tewksbury and Belvedere in Lowell today. The people of Wamesit were Christians, but had little contact with missionaries / people from the church. The journey was too far and arduous back then. Instead, the praying town that got the most attention was Natick.
At the same time all of this was going on, the economic means and methods of survival were breaking down. The primary form of economic interaction with settlers was in the fur trade. As over hunting and settlement took their toll on the animal population, indigenous peoples turned to the sale of land. More settlement diminished agricultural land and led to more pressure from colonists to sell land. Land was sold on liberal credit terms and notes often went unpaid.
Many first peoples found all of this too much to take and rallied behind Metacomet (King Philip) to fight back. They raided colonial settlements and generally had some success until they were pushed back. Wamesit did not join in with Metacomet and attempted to remain friendly with the colonials. This was an unsuccessful strategy for Wamesit.
Disease continued to exact a large tool on the population. Colonists in Billerica and Chelmsford used the situation to conduct raids, killing many and capturing others and selling them into slavery. The village at Wamesit sought help from the General Assembly, but received no response or aid.
By 1680 there were very few left and, under Wannalancet, the Penacook at Pawtucket and Wamesit sold off their remaining land to Billerica and Chelmsford. The joined with the Abenaki and migrated North, eventually settling in southern Quebec.
Very few first peoples remained in the area after that. Though there are some historical notes on tribes migrating on and around the Merrimack during the 1800s. Some Native Americans ultimately worked in the mills in Lowell. Betsy Chamberlain is the most famous of these people.
Tewksbury was founded in 1734.
Tewksbury High School aged students attended Lowell High School from 1900 to 1934. The "new" high school opened in 1935 (what we now call Center School). Redmen was adopted as a mascot sometime in the 1960s. Teams from the 40s and 50s were simply known as the Red and Blue. In fact, the very first team's football uniforms were all blue and white, modeled after Penn State because a local lawyer said he would buy them if that's what they would look like.
Interestingly, I read that it was quite en vogue to adopt "Indian" team names and mascots during the middle 20th century. People of the time saw it as a way of showing how American or patriotic they were. I'm not sure if that's how it happened, but it might help explain the lack of historical accuracy in the town's current team logo.
I recently read an op-ed piece that claimed that Tewksbury is “diverse” and “multicultural.” I am assuming that this is not in relation to race as almost 93% of our residents identify as white only (compared to the US census at 73%). Still if we want to celebrate what diversity we do have, we might want to start by treating each other with basic respect. That means both in the conversations we have with each other over the mascot and in moving forward from the debate. Once again I state that Native Americans have asked for us to stop using their image and language in mascots and logos. You don’t find “Redmen” offensive? Great. You’re sad about the change of a tradition? I get that, too. And still, Native Americans have asked for us to stop using their image and language….