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Banks Braves could go by 2017

State board is poised to force schools to drop Native American symbols

Public schools in Oregon with Native American mascots will have until 2017 to adopt a new school icon if a recently proposed ban from the Oregon Department of Education becomes law.

The Oregon State Board of Education directed its staff this month to draft a proposed administrative rule and a resolution that would prohibit publicly funded state schools from using Native American mascots, imagery or team names. If the rule becomes law, it would directly affect at least 15 high schools - including Banks High - with team names such as Indians, Chieftains and Braves.

Schools would continue to be able to use the team name Warriors 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 drafted rule.

The education board heard passionate testimony from supporters and opponents of such a ban on March 8. A few members of the board, including chair Brenda Frank and vice-chair Artemio Paz Jr., have publicly promoted ending what they consider the potentially harmful practice of branding teams with sometimes-stereotypical American Indian imagery.

Banks High School Principal Jim Smith said he is dismayed and 'maybe even appalled' that Frank testified in support of a ban, which he considers a conflict of interest. In an e-mail sent this week to other principals and superintendents in Oregon, Smith said his heritage is Assiniboine and Chippewa and he came from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northeastern Montana.

"Clearly, she had an agenda and was never listening to the many people, mostly native people, that said there is no issue," he wrote about Frank. "It may have been the most egregious and dictatorial process I have ever personally witnessed.

"I was truly hoping for a transparent process," he added.

New proposal has teeth

A statewide discussion over the appropriateness of the still-common practice of using Native American mascots has been reinvigorated in recent weeks after the education board decided to take another look at the topic. The board previously passed a non-binding recommendation in 2007 that schools stop using American Indian mascots. That resolution, however, was not a mandate and no schools followed the advice.

Under the proposed rule, if school districts do not comply by July 1, 2017 their state funding would likely be withheld.

The drafted administrative rule states the use of Native American mascots and team names violates state non-discrimination laws.

The education board could pass the drafted rule and resolution as early as its May 17 meeting. Before then, the board is expected to discuss the issue at its April 19 meeting. Another public hearing on the matter is set for April 27 at 9 a.m. in the State Capitol.

Many school district officials across the state believe changing their team names and branding would be a costly endeavor. The Roseburg School District estimated it would cost about $345,000 to change its high school from the Indians.

Linn County State Rep. Sherrie Sprenger has organized a meeting in Lebanon later this week with school officials to discuss what Scappoose School District Superintendent John Miner said was the "other side" to the issue - how to still be culturally sensitive and use such mascots. Representatives from the Lebanon School District, whose high school team is the Warriors, testified to the education board that they are honoring American Indian culture with their mascot - a shirtless Native American man riding a horse.

Miner said the Scappoose School District is in a "wait-and-see mode" as the process moves forward.