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Legislature OKs Native American mascot bill

by: FILE PHOTO - The Scappoose Indians name and symbol on the wall of the Scappoose High School gymnasium. The emblem of the Banks Braves, of Banks High School, is among the other team logos on the wall.The Oregon House of Representatives voted Wednesday, Feb. 26, to approve a bill that would allow school districts to receive Native American tribes’ permission to use school mascots that represent or are significant to the tribes.

Senate Bill 1509 cleared the House on a 40-18 vote, with all but one of the “nay” votes coming from Democrats. It previously passed the Senate unanimously.

The bill represents Oregon lawmakers’ second attempt to carve out space for schools, including Scappoose High School, to retain their Native-themed mascots in the face of pending rule changes that would effectively prohibit such mascots by 2017.

Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, SB1509’s chief sponsor, said he believes “all of the names [of existing school mascots] will be acceptable” under the bill.

“There may be some symbols that are being used that may need to be modified,” Kruse allowed.

Senate Bill 215, which was also put forward by Kruse, passed the Oregon Legislative Assembly but was vetoed by Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber last year. Kitzhaber said he vetoed the bill because he believed it created an overly broad exception to the State Board of Education’s decision to ban Native-themed mascots.

But Kitzhaber intends to sign SB1509, gubernatorial spokeswoman Rachel Wray confirmed after the House vote Wednesday.

Parts of the bill were crafted to win the governor’s approval, Kruse indicated.

A primary difference between SB215 and SB1509 is the role of the State Board of Education, the same body that voted in 2012 to prohibit Native-themed mascots.

SB215 would have left it up to each individual school district and federally recognized Oregon tribe to create an agreement allowing the district to use Native-themed mascots.

But SB1509 would require such an agreement to meet criteria it directs the State Board of Education to set out by 2017. The State Board of Education’s approval would be required for a mascot agreement to take effect, although Kruse said that process will essentially be automatic if the agreement meets the board’s criteria.

“This will modify the State Board’s rules,” Kruse said of the bill.

Another key difference is that SB215 specified that a school district must work with the tribe closest to it to form a mascot agreement, while SB1509 contains no such geographical restriction.

“That can be somewhat confusing, because some of the tribes share geographic descriptions,” Kruse explained. “In my part of the world, both the Coquille [Indian] Tribe and the Cow Creek [Band of Umpqua] Tribe [of Indians] basically have claims, for example, in the Medford area.”

Kruse said he knows of about 15 public high schools in Oregon that have Native-themed mascots.

“In virtually every case that I’m aware of, the schools have been in communication with their tribes and have basically worked out most of the issues,” said Kruse. “So, to a large degree, once the State Board has adopted this rule, the next step for the schools and tribes will be relatively simple.”

Both Scappoose High School and Scappoose Middle School have Native-themed mascots and athletic team names: the Indians and the Warriors respectively.

Superintendent Stephen Jupe of the Scappoose School District said he thinks the district can work out an agreement with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde to keep the mascot names, although he said the way Scappoose schools teach the history of Native peoples and use Native-themed symbols could change.

“I am pretty sure, and I approve, of the idea that the tribes will want us to have an element of education about our history,” Jupe said, adding, “I think there is some of our symbols ... that the tribe will probably expect us to change to more accurately represent the local Native peoples.”

Jupe said he is glad to see legislative action on the issue.

“Up to now, it was just sort of ruled by the State Board of Education,” said Jupe. “That was kind of a weird way to go about legislating this.”

Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, whose House district includes Scappoose, voted in favor of SB1509 — as did Rep. Deborah Boone, D-Cannon Beach, who represents Banks and several other communities where public schools have Native-themed mascots.

“I didn’t hear from any of them asking me to change this,” Boone said. She said she heard from constituents, especially in Banks, who made compelling arguments in favor of allowing Banks High School to remain the Banks Braves.

Of the school mascots, Boone said, “It’s just my opinion that it’s their decision to make.”

Not everyone agreed with Boone.

A statement provided by the office of Rep. Joe Gallegos, D-Hillsboro, one of the legislators who voted against the bill Wednesday, quoted him as saying, “Research shows that the act of stereotyping is dehumanizing — not just to the individual who is stereotyped, but to all children who learn to accept the stereotypes of others. School mascots based on stereotypes can be especially damaging, and I believe our students will be better able to learn and thrive when they all feel safe, supported and equal.”




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