Oregon Moving Forward on Native American Mascot Ban

The Oregon Board of Education moved one step closer to banning school mascots that reference Native American names, symbols and tribes. The Board first took up the ban in 2006, after the testimony of Che Butler, a Native American students from the Siletz Tribe, who decried the practice. Shortly after Butler spoke, the board's advisory committee backed the ban, and recommended a timeline that would see the the end of use of such mascots and team names by 2009, with a total phaseout of images and logos by 2011.

Despite the recommendation, 15 high schools across Oregon are still using mascots such as the Indians, Warriors, Braves, or Chieftains.

Last Thursday, the board held hearings on the committee's recommendation and more than two dozen students, faculty and residents spoke about the proposed ban. One of the people who opposed the decision to disallow Native American mascots is Kiante Davis, a sophomore at Lebanon High School and a Native American with roots in Cherokee and Montauk Tribes. The day before the hearing, Davis attended a Lebanon girls basketball game wearing a headdress in support. He says the headdress reflects the pride he feels in both his heritage and his team, the Lebanon Warriors. The headdress, he added, was a reflection of the school spirit, and not intended to be offensive to anyone.

More than two dozen people who testified Thursday in Salem before the State Board of Education chose a similar theme in urging board members to reject a committee's recommendation to ban the use of all Native American names, mascots and logos by Oregon schools that receive public funding.

When discussing the recommendation, some committee members decried the use of Native American symbols as "institutionalized racism" that creates discriminatory environment in schools.

But students, parents and educators from Lebanon, Philomath and other Oregon districts that use Native American symbolism — many also identifying themselves as members of particular tribes — said the images are a source of pride and are used as such.

However, Sam Sachs, who resides in Portland and graduated from South Albany High School in 1986, compared the logos to the Confederate flag he carried around the filed after scoring a touchdown in one of his high school football games.

That symbol was wrong, Sachs said, and so are Indian symbols.

"To me, people aren't mascots. Let me just say to you: African American mascot. Latino mascot. Jewish mascot. Lincoln High Jews?" Sachs asked. "Does that sound right to you?"

The Board of Ed will hold another meeting to discuss the ban next month, and hopes to reach a final decision in May.

The Oregon hearings come less than a month after University of Iowa made waves by declining to invite University of North Dakota to a track meet over UND's use of Fighting Sioux as the team name. At the time UND first expressed interest in competing at the April's Musco Twilight XIII meet, the university had retired the mascot.

At the time, UND had stopped using the Fighting Sioux as its mascot amid heated debate in North Dakota about the nickname.

However, the school re-instated the controversial mascot earlier this month, at which point UI officials decided not to issue an invite to the track meet, [UI's Associate Athletic Director Mark] Abbott said.

03 15, 2012
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