Alsheikh: Welcoming The Wendigo
The College ought to recognize Indigenous culture with a new mascot.
It is time for Keggy to die.
Yes, it is a sad truth to consider, but it nonetheless remains the truth. Since the abolishment of the unofficial “Dartmouth Indian” almost 50 years ago, the College has floundered without a mascot — and as charmingly handsome as Keggy is, he is certainly in no position to fill that void. The “stupid beer thing,” as ESPN referred to Keggy in 2003, is so repulsive to administrators that there is a 0% chance of official recognition for our anthropormorphic keg. The alternative, keeping the Big Green as our mascot, is also untenable: Nobody enjoys cheering for our “wavelength of light” at football games.
It is clear we need something new, but as far as replacements go, all of the options proposed so far have been boring and unoriginal. The moose has little to no personality or flavor to it, and feels almost sterile in its blandness. Any school in the Northeast could claim it. Similarly, the timber wolf, which is also frequently suggested, feels like it has little to no actual connection to Dartmouth culture. The same applies to almost all of the traditional choices — minks and bucks included. Other options such as the dragons are interesting, but most don’t point back to the school's origins or culture very strongly.
Nothing has quite captured the spirit of our college just yet, and so we need to look back to our roots. To that end, I suggest we consider the Wendigo.
The Wendigo is a creature from Alogonquian mythology, a combination of the mythologies of several Indingenous tribes along the Atlantic coast (including the Abenaki people, whose land Dartmouth is situated on). It is described in traditional Alogonquian legends as “a giant with a heart of ice,” and is famously likened to “a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave” by the Ojibwe teacher Basil Johnston. Algonquian-speaking tribes associate it with winter, northern forests and starvation. The Wendigo is frequently depicted as a kind of cannibalistic forest Baphomet – with long antlers on its head and a skull for a face, it is known to scour the forests of New England and Canada for wayward travelers to eat.
The most important consequence of creating a Wendigo mascot would be a recognition of the College’s debt to Native Americans. Recent Indigenous Peoples’ Day protests have reminded us that, while Dartmouth has made significant progress towards acting on histories of colonization and abuse towards Native Americans, issues of representation and recognition are still at the front of the community’s mind. Making the Wendigo the College’s official mascot could join other community efforts, such as Indigenous Peoples’ Day and the Dartmouth Powwow, in making Native culture more visible at Dartmouth. A Wendigo mascot would also serve as a nod to the original purpose of the College and would be a way to bring our school back full-circle to its original, yet quickly abandoned mission of helping Native Americans.
Other aspects of the Wendigo make it a fitting symbol for life at the College. Its status as a forest-dwelling creature of the north alludes both to Dartmouth’s prominent outdoors culture and our intense winters. As an uncontrollable demon-spirit, the Wendigo also captures well the mirth and wildness that often defines our social scene. And on a more symbolic level, being a legendary creature from Native mythology, the Wendigo is a fitting testament to all that is legendary about Dartmouth traditions. Passed down from generation to generation, the idea of the Wendigo has survived through the dedication of Indigenous peoples to their heritage, just as Dartmouth traditions have survived through our dedication to the College.
In practical consideration too, the Wendigo checks off all of the boxes that a mascot should. It is unique: There is no other school in the country that has adopted a Wendigo as its mascot. It also possesses an intimidation factor that would allow it to be taken seriously on the field (a factor which other suggestions, such as the Lorax or the Judges, seriously lack).
Indeed, the main issue with the Wendigo that I can foresee is cultural appropriation. Though it’s a valid concern, adopting this new mascot will not be appropriating Native culture if we proceed from a position of respect and with the consent of Native communities. The approval of local Native tribes should absolutely be sought, and a design for the “Dartmouth Wendigo” should only be finalized with full permission from those whose cultural heritage it draws from. To this end, the Native American and Indigenous studies department and local tribespeople should be intimately involved through every step of the recognition process.
Issues to be discussed with local tribespeople include whether or not it would be appropriate for students to say the word “Wendigo” aloud (doing so is a taboo among certain Native communities) and what specific name should be given the Dartmouth’s Wendigo. Native Americans, just like any other community, are diverse, and each individual will have their own opinion. It's important we don’t rule this mascot out before we consult with appropriate Indigenous representatives.
This effort will undoubtedly require a bit of work. Patience, drive and empathy are necessary to make any systematic change to an institution with such a legacy as ours. Indeed, the biggest opposition to this mascot might not come from the Indigenous community, but instead from the apathy of the student body. As student body president David Millman ’23 put it in 2020, “I don’t even think [the mascot] is on our radar to be honest…I have not heard from one student any concern about a mascot”.
If we are really content to settle for a color as a mascot, then so be it. But I do not think this is the case; I have faith in the spirit and enthusiasm of Dartmouth College, a faith that refuses to let me believe that we are capable of settling for mediocrity. Though we may be attached to the state of things as they stand, we must not allow this temporary mascot-condition to become permanent. Away with the Big Green and the stagnancy of our status quo — let these old traditions fail and make way for the Wendigo!