Ore. considers ban on Native American mascots

By Steven Dubois
Salem, Oregon (AP) April 2012

A draft resolution presented to the state Board of Education would require Oregon schools to retire their Native American mascots within five years or risk losing state funding.

If approved as early as May, the rule would be one of the nation’s strongest, and require 15 high schools, mostly in small towns, to erase Native American mascots from uniforms, sports fields, websites, trophy cases and even school stationery by July 1, 2017. Moreover, schools identified as the Braves, Indians and Chieftains would have to adopt a new nickname. Schools called the Warriors would be allowed to retain their nickname if they alter their mascot.

The regulation would also apply to an unknown number of elementary and middle schools.

Since the 1970s, more than 600 high school and college teams have dropped Native American nicknames, including 20 in Oregon. But some small communities have resisted the trend, saying their nicknames and mascots are a source of pride and tradition.

The six-member board tackled the emotional topic last month, and  was the first public release of the formal rules.  The five-year transition period is intended to help districts pay for changes and give them time to pick a popular new nickname, said Cindy Hunt, government and legal affairs manager for the state Department of Education.

The Enterprise School District in Eastern Oregon changed its mascot from the Savages and Outlaws several years ago at a cost of $15,000 to $20,000. According to Hunt, the transition has taken a decade and is still not quite complete: “People in the community still have the old image.”

Though no vote was taken, the board chaired by Brenda Frank, a member of the Nez Perce tribe, seemed in favor of the rules, with one member questioning whether they could be enforced by 2014. During the public comment period, state Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, a Republican from Scio, questioned why the issue is coming up now, when it wasn’t on her radar when the legislature adjourned the first week of March.

“People are concerned about the process; they don’t feel it’s open,” she said. “If the goal is understanding, I don’t think we’re getting there.”

But most of the public comment was in support of the resolution, with Native Americans saying the mascots, even if well-intentioned, do not reflect their traditions.

“It is not an honor to be fictionalized,” said Neva Lenk, 24, of Portland. “It is not an honor to be taunted by opposing team or schools because of your race. It is not an honor to be used as a mascot.”