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No Home for the Braves

State school board ousts Native American mascots from high school campuses across Oregon
by: Chase Allgood, The Banks Braves logo on the gym floor will be prohibited after July 1, 2017

Come 2017, Banks High School will no longer be the 'home of the Braves.'

The Oregon State Board of Education voted last Thursday to ban Native American mascots in public schools, giving districts like Banks five years to transition.

The rule change comes after months of debate from school officials, community members, lawmakers and American Indians, some of whom are split on the merits of such a shift.

And Banks community members lobbied heavily to save their mascot.

But Jim Foster, outgoing superintendent of the Banks School District said that with the decision made, it's time to move on.

'It means we're going to change,' Foster said of the vote. 'There's no point in fighting it. It's kind of a

done deal.'

While the mood in Banks was mildly somber after the decision by the board, the 5-1 vote was greeted by applause Thursday afternoon.

One of those clapping was Tom Ball, an assistant vice president at University of Oregon and a member of the Klamath and Modoc tribes. He's been a fixture at education board hearings on this topic since they began in February.

'I feel ecstatic,' he said following the vote. 'It's a no-brainer. It's a civil rights issue.'

Eight high schools will be prohibited from using their current Native American mascots after July 1, 2017. Seven schools that use the team name Warriors can continue to do so 'as long as it is not combined with a symbol or image that depicts or refers to an American Indian Tribe, individual, custom or tradition,' according to the approved rule.

Banks will also need to address the mascots at its middle school (the Warriors) and its elementary school (the Little Braves).

Foster said the district hasn't tallied the cost of changing mascots, but thinks it will cost around $15,000 to $20,000.

But that cost can be spread out over the course of five years and items such as team jerseys are scheduled to be replaced anyway.

But scoreboards will need new logos, grandstands at the football field will need to be changed and the high school's gym floor will need to be sanded and repainted.

'Across the district we have to go through and make some changes,' Foster said.

Public comment split

Hundreds of individuals submitted written testimony on the mascot topic to the education board over the last few months. The responses were nearly split, said state Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Ed Dennis, with 389 in favor of a ban and 323 'clearly against.'

With 18 responses filed with the board, Banks residents sent the third-highest amount of feedback to the state against the change. An online petition to keep the current mascot in Banks was signed with 596 names and email addresses.

Portland residents gave the most testimony in favor of the Native American mascot ban by far, with 121 letters of support. Eugene and Beaverton rounded out the top three pro-ban cities with 23 and 11 responses respectively. Neither Portland, Eugene or Beaverton have a school affected by the rule change.

According to state records, not a single Banks resident testified in favor of the ban.

An April 19 meeting on the matter was the longest public hearing on a proposed rule ODE Legal Coordinator Cindy Hunt said she has ever witnessed.

'Our kids and our community put on a good fight,' said Jim Smith, principal of Banks High School.

Smith said getting kids involved in government was a great learning opportunity, even if though they didn't prevail.

Discrimination concerns drove ban

From the outset of the renewed discussions earlier this year, a majority of the members of the Board of Education - citing nondiscrimination laws as well as numerous academic studies - have supported eliminating the longstanding practice in some school districts of branding their athletic teams as Indians, Braves, Chiefs and other similar names.

In Scappoose, many community members have expressed passion to be members of the Scappoose High School Indians 'tribe.' They say the mascot - currently depicted as a muscular, shirtless man with a feathered headdress and stern gaze - is meant to honor, not disrespect, Native culture. The Scappoose name itself is said to be a Chinook Indian Nation word translated to mean either 'gravelly plains' or 'rocky creek.'

Scappoose school officials have mostly stood back from the debate, preferring to wait and see what the state decided. Scappoose High School Athletic Director Robert Medley said a positive attitude toward the change would go a long way in the school, especially for students.

Banks' Smith, who is Native American, argued against the ban during the board's deliberations, and criticized the board chair for testifying in favor of a ban before a vote took place.

Second time around

The conversation over the appropriateness of race-based mascots has occurred in the state before, notably in late 2006 when then-Taft High School student and Siletz Tribal member Che Butler, along with his sister Luhui Whitebear, asked the education board to work toward disallowing schools' use of race-based mascots. Butler said he was distressed after his younger brother witnessed a halftime show at a Molalla Indians game where a Native American child had a target painted on his chest.

Butler is now a Chemeketa Community College student. That school changed its Chiefs mascot to 'Storm' in 1998. No public colleges in Oregon currently use American Indian mascots.

A non-binding 2007 ODE advisory committee recommendation for public schools to cease using American Indian mascots and logos went virtually ignored by the 15 high schools that had such icons.

Now, the penalty for bucking the mandate would be a loss of state funding, an unfeasible scenario for public schools.

But the change will also likely carry a steep cost. The Scappoose School District has not identified what the price would be to rebrand its high school. The larger Roseburg School District estimated in 2007 it cost about $345,650 to change its high school mascot from the Indians, significantly more than Banks expects to pay.

Education board members said the five-year time window for schools to retire their mascots was set to help districts make a smooth transition.

'The time for change has come,' said board member Samuel Henry.