The Oregon State Board of Education recently voted 5-1 to adopt a rule prohibiting Oregon public schools from using Native American names, symbols, or images as school mascots.
>Oregon schools must change by July 1, 2017
Schools have until July 1, 2017 to comply. Key in this decision was research which showed that exposure to Native American mascots had a negative impact on the self-esteem and self-image of Native American children.
"The concept of Native American mascots being hurtful and racist was not new to me," said board member Serilda Summers-McGee. "However the testimony we received from students, members of the Native American community, and researchers regarding the impact of Native American mascots on student learning and self-esteem was extremely illuminating. The role of the Board of Education is to create an environment in which all students can learn and thrive; it was imperative that we pass this rule and resolution to remove the use of Native American mascots in our public schools."
Researcher Stephanie Fryberg told board members at their April meeting that the use of Native Americans as mascots devalues and limits individual identity, even when these mascots are designed with the best intentions and are considered to be "honoring" and "respectful."
"I do not believe any of our schools with Native American mascots intended to be disrespectful," said Superintendent Susan Castillo.
"However, intent is not enough. We need to focus on what the impact is on our kids. Our role as educators needs to be to create a safe, supportive, and welcoming environment for all of our students -- an environment which honors them for who they are as individuals with a rich and varied cultural history. We can no longer accept these stereotypical images for the sake of tradition-not when they are hurting our kids," She said.
The board held over eight hours of public testimony on the topic and received over 700 pieces of written testimony.
More than 100 organizations have endorsed the discontinuation of Native American mascots nationally, including the National Indian Education Association, the Oregon Indian Education Association, the Society of Indian Psychologists, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the Oregon ACLU, and the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights.
"Unfortunately, for many of our Native American youth, the decision seems to be between being a mascot and being invisible," said State Board Chairwoman Brenda Frank, a member of the Klamath Tribes. "It is our job to ensure that those aren't the only choices. This ban is an important step in removing harmful stereotypes from our schools. However, we also have to ensure that we are teaching all of our students not only about Native American history but also about contemporary Native culture. It is all about the students and them feeling comfortable in their schools and communities."
Oregon's ban prohibits using a name, symbol, or image that depicts or refers to an American Indian tribe, individual, custom, or tradition that is used by a public school as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead, or team name.
Prohibited names include, "Redskins," "Savages," "Indians," "Indianettes," "Chiefs," "Chieftains," and "Braves." Schools may continue to use the 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.