State Education Board bans Native mascots

06.12.2015 Dean Rhodes Culture, Education, State Government

By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

The Oregon Board of Education ruled on Friday, May 22, that the 14 state public schools with Native American-themed mascots must change their mascots or lose state funding.

The schools, including Amity and Banks high schools, have until 2017 to change their mascot.

During the meeting, board members voted unanimously against an amendment that would have allowed schools to continue to call their athletic teams by the nicknames of Warriors, Braves, Indians and Chieftains.

Schools in Banks, Molalla and Roseburg use Native American mascots while seven Oregon schools call themselves Warriors, including Amity.

Despite sentiments from the Siletz and Grand Ronde Tribes that supported respectful use of Native mascots by Oregon high schools and argued that Native mascots can be interpreted as complimentary, Education Board members reaffirmed their 2012 order that all state schools with Native American mascots choose new ones.

The Grand Ronde Tribe has consistently supported teaching Oregon’s Native American culture and history in classrooms as a way to combat racism instead of unilaterally eliminating Native mascots. The Grand Ronde Tribe has created a fourth-grade curriculum that includes lessons on Native American history and culture, and is currently working on an eighth-grade curriculum as well.

Tribal Chairman Reyn Leno said the Grand Ronde Tribe was not informed of the Board of Education meeting.

“We are the ones who represent our people and I feel like they’re not listening to what we have to say,” he said. “It’s a step backward as far as what we’re trying to accomplish with educating people on the Tribes. We feel it’s very unfortunate and we haven’t changed our position on this. We’re disappointed.”

One school has changed its mascot during the back and forth on the issue in the last three years. The Dalles High School dropped its mascot, the Eagle Indian, and played this year as the Riverhawks.

However, the Board of Education’s ruling might not be the last word on the matter.

Oregon Rep. Sherrie Sprenger of Scio introduced House Bill 3560 in the Legislature on Wednesday, June 3, that would allow Oregon public schools to use a Native American mascot if the public school enters into an approved written agreement with an Oregon Indian Tribe.

The written agreement must contain, among other things, a plan for how the history and culture of the Native Tribe will be included in the school’s curriculum and how the school will address any achievement gap between Native and nonNative students.

Sprenger’s bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and no hearings have been scheduled, according to the Oregon Legislature’s website.

Sprenger’s district includes Lebanon High School, which uses “warriors” as its mascot.

In past testimony before the Legislature, Sprenger has said she supports communication and understanding between Oregon Tribes and public schools instead of the state handing down a unilateral ruling on the mascot matter.