DENVER – Colorado public schools that use or plan to use Native American mascots or logos would need to get permission from a panel, or lose state funding, under a proposal a state lawmaker wants to introduce next year.
It’s an idea that Colorado lawmakers briefly considered in 2010, but has picked up momentum in other states recently. There’s also greater public attention on the issue because of the movement to get the NFL’s Washington Redskins to change the name of the team.
Rep. Joe Salazar, a Thornton Democrat who plans to introduce the bill during the legislative session that begins in January, is still crafting the legislation but said he envisions a panel with representatives from Native American communities deciding whether a school can use a certain logo or mascot.
“We have too many people saying, ‘I don’t think this is offensive,’ and they’re not Native American,” Salazar said.
In Oregon, a statewide ban on the use of Native American mascots by schools takes effect in 2017, but lawmakers passed a bill this year to allow schools to keep Native American mascots if they get permission from a tribe.
Also this year, Wisconsin passed a law allowing schools to keep or restore Native American logos and mascots, four years after legislation requiring that state education officials hold hearings on race-based nicknames if there were complaints. However, most schools had given up their Native American mascots and said they had no plans to switch back because they spent too much money and time complying with the 2010 law.
In Colorado, the Eaton High School Reds is one of the schools that has been criticized by Native Americans for their nickname. The school’s logo is a scowling, shirtless Native American with his arms crossed.
Randy Miller, superintendent for the district, said the school nickname hasn’t prompted any community complaints.
“We’ve always used it as a source of pride,” Miller said. He said lawmakers should focus on ways to improve educational outcomes.
“My number one concern is the education of kids. I think our state Legislature should do the same,” he said.
Miller also cited the expense schools would incur if they have to change logos at athletic facilities, uniforms, and buses and wondered whether the state would pick up the costs.
Salazar, for his part, said he doesn’t think it’s heavy-handed to defund schools that use Native American mascots without permission.
“It’s about saying that we, as the state of Colorado, we will not fund discriminatory behavior,” he said.
At the college level, the NCAA warned more than a dozen schools in 2005 that they would face sanctions if they didn’t change Native American logos or nicknames. Some colleges kept their nicknames by obtaining permission from tribes, including the Florida State Seminoles and the University of Utah Utes.