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Ed board gives mascot control to tribes despite bitter opposition

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde helped tip Oregon Board of Education support Thursday in favor of allowing Native American mascots in certain cases.

A proposed rule that would have prohibited such mascots now makes exceptions for schools that come to an agreement with their local tribe.

“Putting this decision back in the hands of the tribes to work on these issues and to move through these exceptions when it makes sense may be the most respectful act we can make as a board,” said board Vice Chairman Charles Martinez Jr.

The new rule requires the local school board to hold a public hearing on the mascot and accept oral and written comments. A tribe also has authority to revoke an agreement prior to its expiration date.

Some board members strongly opposed the exception. Second Vice Chairman Angela Bowen, an American Indian, said the Legislature — which was preparing a bill that would overrule a stricter ban — has “bullied the education board into acting against their consciences.

“Honestly, I am offended at this point that we would be reduced to cartoon characters,” Bowen said. “I’m very unhappy about the fact the Legislature has pressured this board to make rules the board obviously in the past has not agreed with.”

Se-ah-dom Edmo, president of the Oregon Indian Education Association, called the exception “a mistake” and said the Board of Education “would become complicit” in acts of objectification and discrimination against native students.

She cited an Alabama case where sports rivals of a local school with an Indian mascot created a 20-foot banner which said, “Hey Indians, get ready to leave on a Trail of Tears Round 2.”

But support for the exception from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde tipped the scales, with board members voting 4-2 to pass it.

As a confederation, the Grand Ronde comprises 27 smaller tribes that have banded into a single tribe — one of nine in Oregon that are federally recognized.

Education Board Chairwoman Miranda Summer met with the Grand Ronde tribal council Jan. 8 to discuss the issue.

Many of the Indians, warriors, braves and chiefs from history “are worthy of being honored as high school symbols of respect and integrity,” said Jack Giffen Jr., vice chairman of the council.

The Grand Ronde have used discussions with schools that want to keep their native mascots as a vehicle to introduce a fourth-grade curriculum on Oregon’s tribes.

The development begins to reverse a trend of schools ignoring or poorly describing native history and culture, Giffen said.

“The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde,” he said, “along with other Oregon tribes, support this solution because it allows the schools to keep their native mascots if they collaborate with the tribe on positive portrayals of native symbols and integrate native studies in school curriculum to combat stereotypes.”