The issue of Indian names and mascots of Oregon high schools is now before the Oregon House. The Senate, to its credit, has passed without dissent SB 1509, which attempts to solve the problem with the help of Oregon’s nine Native American tribes. Now the bill is before the House Education Committee, which has scheduled a public hearing and possible work session for Feb. 24.
The bill hopes to preserve the use of Indian names and mascots at Oregon schools that use them, including Lebanon and Philomath. Gov. John Kitzhaber last year vetoed a similar bill, but he’s been reported to be willing to sign this one, though it’s not clear that there’s a real difference between the two. One difference might be that the tribes were very disappointed and complained that he issued his veto last year without consulting them in any way.
The state Board of Education in 2012 banned the use of Indian names and mascots starting in 2017 on the grounds that, mainly, they harmed Native American children. The board cited a long list of academic research. But a far more persuasive argument on the other side was presented by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in testimony supporting Senate Bill 1509.
“High school mascots are supposed to be inspirational,” tribal Chairman Reyn Leno wrote. “High schools do not adopt ‘Losers’ or ‘Slugs’ as their mascots; they adopt admirable and inspirational figures. The banned names — Indians, Braves, Warriors and Chiefs — are inspirational Native images and we do not view their use as de facto derogatory.”
With that testimony in mind, sensible and true as it is, the ban on Indian names should simply be overruled. The pending bill does not go that far. Instead, it allows school boards and tribes to work out agreements on the use of names and symbols or mascots, and it directs the state board to approve those agreements by the end of 2016.
The tribes said in their testimony they hoped this would result in more education about, and awareness by young people of, the long history of the Native population of this state. And that would be the best possible outcome of all. (hh)