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It was time to ban American Indian mascots in high schools

It wasn't too many years ago that a high school in Eastern Oregon's rustic Wallowa County made headlines by dumping its racially insensitive school mascot.

It was about time.

To understand just how bad the name was required only a simple understanding of the county's history dating to the late 1870s, when the Wallowa Valley Nez Perce demonstrated a justified reluctance to abide by forced relocation to an Idaho reservation.

That act of defiance - driven by a disbelief that the Great Spirit Chief granted anyone the right to tell another where to live - led to Army Gen. Oliver Howard's 30-day warning to evacuate. Failure to do so would be considered an act of war.

Chief Joseph, ironically, advocated for relocation, putting survival ahead of war and death. It wasn't enough, as tensions led to the untimely killing of four white settlers. It was the tipping point.

Chief Joseph, still hoping to avoid further bloodshed, led 800 Nez Perce Indians as they fled eastward.

His efforts to maintain peace were in vain.

An estimated 2,000 U.S. soldiers followed the Nez Perce on their march for freedom that covered 1,170 miles over three months from Eastern Oregon into Montana.

After a devastating five-day battle during freezing weather with no food or blankets, with the major war leaders dead, Chief Joseph surrendered to Gen. Nelson Appleton Miles on Oct. 5, 1877, in the Bear Paw Mountains of the Montana Territory, less than 40 miles south of Canada.

History will record for all time Chief Joseph's graceful surrender:

'Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Too-hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are - perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.'

This is the backdrop of history in an Eastern Oregon county, where a high school, until 2006, allowed the mascot name of 'Savages.'

The proud stand by the Nez Perce, declaring their resistance to forced relocation for all of the right reasons, and the choice to flee rather than engage in a bloody war, hardly paints the picture of savages.

For this reason alone, the Oregon Board of Education should be applauded for its decision to ban the use of Native American mascots by all Oregon schools.

It was about time.

Steve Brown is executive editor of The Outlook, Sandy Post and Estacada News. He can be reached at 503-492-5119.