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Let tribes and district use mascot to form positive connection

Native Americans have been an unusually hot topic in Banks over the past several years. That's because the high school's longtime mascot — the Braves — has been under fire.

A 2012 report to the Oregon Board of Education recommended banning the use of Native American mascots in schools.

It quoted a former American Psychological Association president stating that Native American mascots "are teaching stereotypical, misleading and too often, insulting images of American Indians...They are sending the wrong message to all students."

Nobody wants to see children harmed by demeaning stereotypes. So in many cases it makes sense for schools to change their mascots.

But not all cases. Not in the case of the Banks Braves.

Consider this finding from the main researcher cited in the report: "American Indian mascots have negative consequences because there are relatively few alternate characterizations and as such, are powerful [negative] communicators as to how American Indians should look and behave."

But what if a school brought in a wave of positive "alternate characterizations" to serve as powerful positive communicators?

Banks sits within the historic boundaries of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and a 2014 law passed by the Oregon legislature allowed schools to keep their Native American mascots as long as they entered into agreements with supportive local tribes.

Passionate about educating the general public on their history and culture, the Grand Ronde Tribe hopes the mascot issue can help do that through partnerships with affected schools, such as Banks.

Grand Ronde Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno, who does not view the Braves mascot as derogatory, says "it is possible to use Native American mascots in a respectful manner when educated on them."

Leno wants the school district to keep its mascot and open its minds (and classrooms) to the tribes.

The Grand Ronde Tribe has a fourth-grade and (soon) an eighth-grade curriculum related to their history and culture that could be adopted in the Banks School District. The district's current and past superintendents have shown interest in doing this as part of a partnership with the tribe. And the partnership wouldn't have to stop there.

Imagine students traveling to the Grand Ronde reservation and watching traditional dancing or drumming or storytelling. Imagine a visit to the classroom from members of the tribe that once hunted and gathered and roamed the land where the school now stands. Imagine a school where students grow up excited and proud of their connection to this ancient heritage.

But Banks students might never get that chance.

That's because the state board of education is set to vote next week on a new rule that could narrow the 2014 law on Native American mascots to the point that not even a partnership with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde could save the Braves.

Reached Monday, a board spokesman said the language of the rule would be changing before the vote but did not say how.

We hope it changes in a way that will help excite Banks students about their local tribe. Psychological research into harm by mascots might find different results in a school with firsthand, positive connections to real Native Americans.

It's true that schools can still adopt a Native American curriculum, regardless of the mascot issue. Locally, about 10 schools in Beaverton and three private schools in Portland have done so. And Banks Superintendent Jeff Leo has shown interest.

But with the leverage of the mascot issue gone, it wouldn't be surprising if an already busy Leo decided to "fight no more forever" for that Grand Ronde connection.

Instead of getting to meet real tribe members and hear their stories or visit their reservation, Banks students would simply erase the Braves logo and adopt a mascot with no Native American connection.

And it wouldn't be surprising if after years of being a regular topic in town, Native Americans disappeared too, from people's thoughts and conversations, erased by a well-intentioned rule.

Make your voice heard. See "The Banks Braves' last stand?" on page A7 for information on when and where

to comment at the upcom-

ing board of education meeting.