Samantha Rayburn-Trubyk drove this week seven hours from her home in Winnipeg to the southwest corner of North Dakota, with a message: it's time for the nickname of Dickinson High School to join other relics of the "Age of Monsters" ".
Dickinson's sports teams are still known as the "Dwarves," and defenders like Rayburn-Trubyk are asking for that name to be replaced.
"The conclusion is that this word is offensive to Little People, and (Little People of America) has been very clear on this point," Rayburn-Trubyk said in a telephone interview. "There are endless possibilities of how to name a team that does not invade being disrespectful to a group of people, and there are only a few schools left in the country that cling to this pet. It has long been a change, and there is absolutely no good defense to keep this archaic and backward term alive in public schools. "
That is the message he delivered to the Dickinson school board during a meeting on Monday, telling the board that the term Midgets "has a lot of hate," Dickinson's press reported.
"I want to make it clear, we are not here to come and force you to change. We are not trying to force anything on you," said Rayburn-Trubyk, president of Little People of Manitoba, at Monday's meeting. "We just want to give you our perspective and our point of view. You can make the decision on your own."
The term has been subject to increasing scrutiny in recent years, whether used as a team nickname or in other contexts. Last month, Hockey Canada decided to change the names of their age groups, including "dwarfs."
"We believe everyone should feel welcome in the game and in our continued effort to make hockey more inclusive, members at the annual Hockey Canada meeting determined that the names of our age divisions will change," Michael Brind & # 39; Amour, president of Hockey Canada board of directors, said in a statement.
The group also changed the groups "rookie", "pee", "atom" and "rooster" to clearer and more precise names that specify the ages of the players, from under 7 years to U21. Those changes will take effect for the 2020-21 season.
The Canadian Lacrosse Association did the same last week, replacing the names of the divisions, such as "dwarfs" with number-based rankings, and the president of Little People of Canada called the decision "win-win-win." Other Canadian groups, including BC Hockey and Ontario Basketball, had previously reviewed the names of their rankings, movements that were also encouraged by the defenders.
The Department of Agriculture in 2015 stopped referring to some small raisins as "dwarfs" after a request from Little People of America. And in July, a school board in Wisconsin decided to replace its nickname "Midgets" with "Northstars." A recent graduate who served on the committee to choose a new name told Wisconsin Public Radio that "many of the children I spoke with understood that it was time for a change and they were on board to find a better pet name."
Rayburn-Trubyk, who, like his teenage son, has achondroplasia, spoke with Dickinson's board as a representative of Little People of America. One of his goals when visiting that community, which has a population of around 23,000 inhabitants, was to explain the painful history of the word dating back to 1800 and the legacy of circuses and exhibitions.
Rayburn-Trubyk tried to deliver his message gently, saying that with defense, "you want to enter from a positive point of view", and citing Maya Angelou ("when you know better, you do better").
"Around the corner in 2019, each school must commit a part of its curriculum to teach diversity, inclusion and tolerance in its classrooms," he said. "And what we were pointing out is that we were curious about how schools maintain their credibility when, on the one hand, they educate their students on how to treat everyone equally and then, on the other hand, they support the use of a divisive and discriminatory word (recorded) correctly on the gym floor.
"Consider, for a moment, if you were a small person attending high school and you were being bullied with the term & # 39; Dwarf & # 39;. Would you think your concerns could be taken seriously by the administration or by the people you should be able to trust if they support the use of the same word in your athletic program? School is supposed to be a safe place for children. "
Dickinson began using the name in the mid-1900s, according to the Bismarck Tribune, and tried in 1996 to change it, according to the press. The school board then voted for a change, but the residents, angry at the lack of discussion on the matter, held a recall election and at least three board members were revoked.
"I understand that people cling desperately to what they have known in the past, but the pet is not appropriate," Diane Melbye, one of those board members, told the Associated Press at the time.
In 2010, Dean Rummel, then director of the school board, put the issue under discussion, but there was no movement. However, he thinks that could have changed, he told the local newspaper.
"When you see the University of North Dakota (moving from Fighting Sioux to Fighting Hawks) and other pets from all over the country that have to change, I think it's probably a long time ago to take a look at this e … try e initiate a change, "he told reporters.
Rummel urged the current school board to start a community conversation and request input from as many people as possible.
"For some reason, the pet is close and dear to the hearts of some people," he told reporters. "I don't understand that, but I can certainly respect that … (but) a change is long overdue. I think it's time."
As for Rayburn-Trubyk, he said he has a visceral reaction to seeing cartoons of small people, such as the image used by Dickinson.
"Is that me? It's supposed to be me, right? It's so terribly offensive, just public mockery of someone with skeletal dysplasia, someone with a disability," he said. "As I understand it, talking to some of the board members, when they go to tournaments outside their community, they often can't even speak because they are ashamed."
At Dickinson, he discovered that "the members of the community were reasonable, friendly and receptive, so I hope he changes. They found themselves with a lot of resentment (when the change was considered) in the past, but I think times change , the perspectives change and I think this is the right time. "
The Dickinson board did not take action on Monday, but is looking for more community discussion.