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Banks Braves free to stay, pending pact with tribe

Oregon's Board of Education passed a new rule that allows Native American mascots

COURTESY PHOTO - Students at Willamina Elementary School don Native American dress as part of a special fourth-grade curriculum developed by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. The tribes would like to bring the curriculum to Banks as well, as part of a partnership that would allow the school district to keep its Braves mascot. Four years after Oregon’s debate about Native American mascots began, it looks as if it has finally come to an end — and the Banks Braves are safe.

“It means more than you can imagine,” said Daren Ackerman, a Banks High School graduate. “This isn’t just a word and symbol. It’s how we were raised, it’s who we grew up watching and wanting to be like as kids. The Brave is a symbol of our community’s values and morals and a sign to always strive to achieve greatness...I for one take pride in the fact that its origin comes from a culture who is resilient, wise, strong, and caring and compassionate.”

Oregon’s Board of Education members adopted a new rule at their meeting in Salem Thursday, Jan. 21, that would allow the Banks School District to keep the Braves as their mascot as long as they enter into an agreement with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde (CTGR).

The debate started in 2012 when studies from the American Psychological Association reported that Native American mascots harmed the wellbeing of Native American students and promoted stereotypes about Native Americans.

Proponents of keeping the mascots — such at the CTGR and many Banks residents — said the symbols were a source of pride for their communities.

Former Banks Superintendent Bob Huston worked on a statewide committee with other school leaders and Native American tribal representatives to come up with a compromise. Those discussions contributed to the new rule passed last week. Current Banks Superintendent Jeff Leo has been hoping for the chance to work with the Grand Ronde Tribe since he joined the district in September, he said. “Now we can move forward.”

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde have been vocal about their support for keeping Native American mascots in schools and also for the chance to educate students on their culture, history, language and government system.

“We definitely want to further pursue a relationship with the Grand Ronde tribe,” Leo said.

Each Oregon school district with a Native American mascot needs to gain permission from their local tribe to keep it. That’s the CTGR for Banks because their organization includes the Kalapuya tribe, which inhabited the land Banks schools now sit on.

While it’s still a preliminary draft, the Grand Ronde tribe and the Banks School District have roughly outlined what their agreement may look like.

“The overall goal of this Agreement is to foster a positive relationship between the Tribe and the District, and to agree on a culturally appropriate way to use and portray the District’s mascot,” the draft reads. Further goals include building a respect and understanding of the tribe’s history and culture; giving youth the chance to benefit from the Grand Ronde’s developed curriculum; and to foster a culturally respectful representation of Native American symbolism and pride.

Leo met with the Grand Ronde tribal council last month and found the whole experience “very very very positive.”

Tribal and school district leaders still need to discuss whether the Braves image is culturally appropriate or whether it should be tweaked.

In addition, the Grand Ronde Tribe has created a fourth-grade curriculum that focuses on its history and culture.

A current draft of the agreement between the two entities notes that “The District has reviewed the curriculum and agrees to begin using the curriculum” with a date to be determined.

Mark Ward — owner of Jim’s Thriftway in Banks, a youth basketball coach and Banks High alumni — said he considers the Braves part of the town’s identity. He’s excited about the idea of the Grand Ronde’s curriculum going into Banks schools. “I think it’d be a great addition,” he said. “It would be good for everybody.”

Sharon Miller Ackerman of Banks also wants to see the Grand Ronde’s curriculum in the schools. “It should have been incorporated a long time ago,” she said. But she thinks the whole debate about Oregon Native American mascots was a waste of time. “Our world has become too politically correct and the minority calls all the shots,” she said.

According to the draft agreement, the Grand Ronde Tribe would be a resource to the school district for information and materials related to the curriculum, as well as to help incorporate “materials and activities to educate all students in the District about the history and culture of the Tribe and Native people.”

And Banks would also offer a Native American club for students in grades 6 to 12 who wish to participate and learn more about the culture.

Local Native American history is often glossed over or skipped altogether in Oregon schools.

“A big part of all this is education, which we are in the business for,” Jacob Pence said of the agreement. Pence is the district’s athletic director and the high school’s assistant principal.

“It’s great news keeping the Braves is now a possibility,” he said. “It focuses on education, communication and collaboration. And that’s really positive.”

City Manager Jolynn Becker, a Banks High graduate, is excited about something else. One of her favorite parts of Banks sporting events, she said, is when the crowd yells really loud to celebrate their mascot during the National Anthem when the singer ends the song with “and the home of the brave.”