DENVER – Members of a commission that studied Native American mascots in schools on Monday reported success, blazing the way for a national effort.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, last year announced the commission, which was charged with studying how communities can respect the culture of Native Americans while also maintaining traditions.
After five months of community meetings and discussions, the 15-member commission established four principles, including eliminating derogatory and offensive Native American mascots, imagery and names.
Rather than mandate a solution through legislation – which was proposed in the Legislature – leaders said a better approach is to facilitate community discussions.
“The solution you get to by opening your arms and opening your heart, and actually going and listening, and going through this longer, more time-consuming process, is a much stronger resolution than a legislative one,” Hickenlooper said at a news conference in his office, with members of the commission, including representatives of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
Four schools in Colorado with Native American names and imagery have taken steps to facilitate a conversation as a result of the commission’s meetings.
Strasburg High School, home of the Indians, has reached out to tribal representatives of the Northern Arapahoe in Wyoming to design a more culturally appropriate logo. Northern Arapahoe members will visit the school Friday to provide additional cultural information.
Loveland High School administration, home of the Indians, has also expressed support for reaching out to tribal nations. Similarly, Lamar High School, home of the Savages, and Eaton High School, home of the Reds, also are discussing how to set a tone for civil dialogue in an effort to hear from both sides of the community.
Jeff Rasp, principal at Strasburg High School, said he watched his administration go through a sort of “evolution” on the subject. The board had opposed legislation last year that would have prohibited schools from using Native American mascots.
“In that early process, we weren’t ready yet for an answer,” Rasp said. “I can tell you now, that after going through this process, I don’t see how you can be on a commission with these honored guests here and friends, and not say that anything in particular that’s offensive and derogatory needs to be eliminated.”
The three other principles outlined are:
Recognizing and respecting tribal sovereignty while pushing schools to enter into relationships with tribes.Respecting local control of school boards while encouraging those boards to engage in Native American conversations.Focusing on education and outreach.The commission was such a success, it caught the attention of the White House, which is considering taking the strategy to other states. It also complements an initiative by sportswear manufacturing giant Adidas to provide financial and design assistance to schools that want to change Native American mascots.
“Harmful stereotypes affect students’ lives day in and day out,” said Bill Mendoza, executive director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education.
“It is an evolution we are all having, an evolution of the kind of sophistication of this issue.”
Clement Frost, chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, added: “American Indian mascots that portray American Indians as caricatures, trivialize symbols of American Indian culture and lack any sincere connection to the people they purport to represent can be harmful and offensive. Nonetheless, the use of American Indian mascots creates an opportunity for schools and tribes to engage in meaningful relationships with one another.”