School & District Management

K-12 Superintendents Address Native American Mascot Issues

By Lesli A. Maxwell — November 27, 2013 1 min read
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The vigorous campaign to convince the owner of Washington’s professional football team to change its name has occupied hours of television time and endless inches of newspaper copy in recent months.

But the controversy and debate over the use of Native American mascots for sports teams also extends to K-12, and superintendents have often found themselves in the position of either defending a team name or image, or, in some cases, leading the charge to change it.

In Oregon right now, this is very much a live issue. Under a new rule, the state’s high schools have until 2017 to get rid of any symbols, images, or names that refer to any Native American tribe or tradition. That sweeping ban was approved by the state board of education last year, after the board concluded that there was ample research to show that the use of such names and images are harmful to American Indian children’s self-image and identity.

But as this story today from The Oregonian explains, a superintendent in a district of 1,100 students is trying to preserve the use of a Native American mascot and image by building an alliance with local tribal leaders. The Banks school system, a rural district about 25 miles west of Portland, has long used the Braves as its mascot for the high school’s teams.

Superintendent Bob Huston told The Oregonian that he met with the tribal council chairman for the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde to discuss how the district can respectfully keep the mascot. The tribal chairman, Reyn Leno, has been supportive of schools in Oregon being able to keep their mascots as long as they work with tribes on positive portrayals of Native Americans and also on integrating cultural studies into schools’ curricula to help fight negative stereotypes, according to the newspaper.

But in order for Banks and any other districts to get around the new rule, they’ll need state legislation allowing them to do so. Without that, the schools that still use Native American mascots would risk losing state funding.

An attempt to ban the use of American Indian mascots in Michigan earlier this year played out differently, which my colleague Bryan Toporek over at Schooled in Sports followed closely.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.