Educate, Engage, Activate

Women’s History Month Honoree 2021: Grace Wagner

Grace Wagner, a Winchester High School senior, moved to Winchester with her family when she was 2. It was just before she started high school that Grace began to notice the negative stereotypes that people in town held toward Native cultures. A member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe, Grace recognized a connection between the emotions she felt when some people reacted negatively to her heritage and the way she felt when she would look at the Sachem mascot. She knew that the mascot needed to change.

Last year, Grace joined a group of student and community activists, including the Network, in a campaign to provide education around the negative impact of the Sachem mascot. Grace is happy that she was part of a change that will make the school and community a more inviting place and was honored to join and learn from so many advocates in the process of making this important community change. She acknowledged that the reactions she received from some in the community who were upset about the mascot change felt hurtful and, at times, threatening, particularly since she has spent most of her life in Winchester and loves the town. She has remained mindful that changes are difficult and feels certain that the decision to remove the Sachem mascot will help the town to move forward as a unified community. 

Grace has continued her advocacy work around indigenous issues, even though the organizing efforts in Winchester are over. Taking the lessons she learned here, she hopes to contact state lawmakers and encourage her tribe to support state-wide legislation put forth by the Massachusetts Indigenous Legislative Agenda to ban Native mascots in public schools across the Commonwealth. She also continues to deepen her understanding around issues of colonization through the Boston Children’s Chorus, of which she is a member, and its collaboration with singer and composer Joanne Shenandoah on a concert titled “This Land” about indigenous history in the United States. 

Grace believes that a major challenge in the work to advance indigenous rights is the education that is presented in schools from a very young age. She hopes that schools will continue to present truthful information about the first Thanksgiving, incorporate teachings about the American Indian Movement as a part of the civil rights movement, and enforce the idea that Native people are still here among us and that their perspectives are alive and should be consulted. 

Grace is inspired by the work of Ava DuVernay, the groundbreaking Black filmmaker who addresses social justice issues in her work. As an aspiring performer, Grace hopes to be a part of productions like DuVernay’s that have the power to increase mutual understanding and change minds through the arts. 

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