Oregon school officials pan proposal to ban Indian mascots

By Brad Cain
Salem, Oregon (AP) 11-07

A state panel heard strongly negative reviews during October from local school officials about a proposal to ban Indian high school mascots from 15 Oregon schools.

Some Indian leaders consider the use of Indian mascots, logos and team nicknames as offensive. So state school officials are considering a recommendation to force schools to get rid of them by September 2011.

During several hours of testimony, however, officials from those schools argued that there’s no evidence that use of such mascots or symbols creates any problem and that it would be costly for districts to remove them.

“We have no data to show that this causes harm,” said Lee Paterson, superintendent for the Roseburg School District, where high school teams are called “the Indians.”

In fact, Paterson and other officials said the Indian students at those schools take a sense of pride in having their schools known by such symbols and that the community as a whole supports them as well.

The question was raised in Oregon last December, when then-high school senior Che Butler, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz, urged the Oregon State Board of Education to strike down the mascots as racist.

After the hearing, Butler said that despite the school officials’ assertions that the use of Indian mascots hasn’t caused problems, he and other Indians feel demeaned and insulted by their use.

Butler said the Indian images, logos and nicknames only perpetuate stereotypes of Indians.

“The racism is still there, and it will always be there as long as there are mascots,” he said in an interview after the public hearing.

The proposal to do away the Indian mascots and nicknames came after months of closed hearings by an advisory panel to state School Superintendent Susan Castillo, who hasn’t indicated when she will rule on the controversy.

The draft suggests that the 15 schools with Native American logos agree on new names by September 2009, and have the new logos phased-in by 2011. Two additional recommendations emphasize culturally appropriate instruction and avoidance of stereotypes.

Some school superintendents who testified Tuesday said they could see merit in the two additional recommendations.

But Forrest Bell, superintendent of the Reedsport School District, said officials in that district asked the Indian students how they would feel about dropping “the Braves” as the team’s nickname and logo.

The students’ response, he said, was that they would feel as though their Indian heritage was being slighted.

“They are very proud of it. They like our logo,” Bell said.

Amity School Superintendent Reg McShane said Indian students in that community agreed that they like the school’s “warrior” name.

“A warrior is a cultural symbol of strength, honor and pride,” McShane said.

The teams with Indian names include the Amity Warriors; Banks Braves; Lebanon Warriors; Mohawk Indians; Molalla Indians; North Douglas Warriors; Oakridge Warriors; Philomath Warriors; Reedsport Braves; Rogue River Chieftains; Roseburg Indians; Scappoose Indians; Siletz Valley Warriors; The Dalles Wahtonka Eagle Indians; and the Warrenton Warriors.