DENVER – Sportswear manufacturing giant Adidas pledged Thursday to provide financial and design assistance to schools that want to change Native American mascots, an effort that hits home in Southwest Colorado.
The news comes as Gov. John Hickenlooper last month signed an executive order creating a commission to study how communities can respect the culture of Native Americans and also maintain traditions.
Efforts gained steam in Colorado and across the nation this year, just as the NFL’s Washington Redskins faced increasing criticism for the team name.
Adidas will offer design resources to any high school in America that wants to change its logo or mascot. The company also said it would provide financial assistance to schools who want to change their identity.
The announcement was made at the White House Tribal Nations Conference.
“Sports have the power to change lives,” said Eric Liedtke, an executive board member for Adidas Group. “We are harnessing the influence of sports in our culture to lead change for our communities.”
The exact number is unclear, but as many as 40 schools still use American Indian mascots in Colorado. Only a handful have been viewed as offensive.
The subject resonates for many residents in Southwest Colorado, home to the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes. Even though the closest school with a Native American mascot is in Montrose – where Montrose High School goes by the Montrose Indians – tribes in Southwest Colorado have been closely watching.
“A lot of the feedback we heard so far talks about the lack of funding for these schools because it’s in rural school districts,” said Ernest House, Jr., executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs and a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. “This speaks to the heart of that.”
The 15-member commission established by the governor will include Native Americans from the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes, as well as education organizations and members of the public.
House was in Durango on Thursday speaking with tribal representatives. He expects the Adidas announcement to come up at the commission’s first public hearing on Nov. 18 in Strasburg, home to the Strasburg Indians. His staff wasted no time Thursday, quickly reaching out to Adidas for details to share.
“We’re looking forward to starting the discussion,” House said.
State Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, who led efforts at the state level to eliminate Native American mascots, welcomed the announcement from Adidas. He carried legislation this year that would have limited Native American mascots at public schools.
But opponents – including school boards – raised concerns over costs associated with making a transition to new mascots and logos. Salazar said the Adidas offer should change the conversation.
“Every high school in the state that could benefit from this offer should accept it,” Salazar said. “Doing the right thing will never be easier.”