Senator calls bill to prevent ban of Indian mascots 'insulting' 5-8-07

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - State Sen. Thelma Harper says legislation
that would prevent the state from banning American Indian mascots at
schools is insulting and she hopes it fails this session.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland, specifies that
no state agency could prohibit public or private institutions from
using American Indians for symbols, names and mascots.

The measure passed the Senate State and Local Government Committee on
Tuesday by a vote of 6-1, with Harper as the only dissenting vote.

Before the companion bill passed the House last month, an amendment
was added incorporating a preamble to the bill that urged schools to
“honor” the heritage of Indians in some way. But Bunch removed the
preamble Tuesday to keep schools from doing something that might be

“We're simply clarifying that to keep problems from happening
later,” he said.

Harper, who is black, said the bill is still unnecessary. The
Nashville Democrat said it's offensive that American Indians, black
people, or people from any ethnicity would be used as school mascots.

“Bringing that bill, no matter what type of amendment was placed on
it, is an insult to their heritage,” she said. “It's an insult to
the state of Tennessee, and I hope the bill doesn't pass.”

House sponsor Mike Bell has said he proposed the legislation after
American Indian activists went before the state's Human Rights
Commission earlier this year and asked its members to ban what they
consider offensive Indian mascots and symbols in state public schools.

The activists said about two dozen high schools and 80 middle and
elementary schools in Tennessee use Indians in their team names.

Bell, R-Riceville, said his constituents were concerned that two
schools in their district would be affected.

The National Congress of American Indians said the debate over sports
mascots dates back to the 1970s, when the University of Oklahoma
changed its mascot, Little Red. In 2005, the NCAA banned the use of
Indian mascots in postseason tournaments.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga stopped using Chief
Moccanooga as its mascot in the mid-1990s when activists asked the
school to change. The school's sports teams are now nicknamed the

Tennessee is the only state proposing such legislation this year,
according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

In the past few years, legislation to ban the use of Indian mascots
was introduced in California, Oklahoma and New Jersey. None of those
bills passed.