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Warriors? Indians? State board considers mascot ban exception

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Molalla's mascot, the Indians, is one of several Native American mascots that might have to change under new state education board rules.The fate of Molalla High School’s rallying symbol — the Molalla Indian mascot — has been in limbo for the past five years since the Oregon Board of Education banned all Native American mascots beginning in January 2017.

Spurred by legislation last year, the state education board is considering a narrow exception to the ban. Only three out of 14 schools with such mascots would be eligible under the exception, and Molalla is one of them. Rogue River High School and Siletz Valley Early College Academy are the others.

“I think it is step in the right direction because it begins to give clarity to schools and tribes on the heels of a period of great uncertainty as the executive and legislative branches of government navigated this difficult issue,” said Tony Mann, superintendent of the Molalla River School District.

“They’re mascoting my culture without my consent.”

The rule would allow Native American mascots when the name includes the name of a federally recognized tribe and the tribe signs an agreement with the school district to use the mascot. The school district also would have to show that its schools are located in a historic area of interest to that tribe. School districts would be prohibited from changing their mascots’ names to meet the requirement.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 2 p.m. Dec. 21 on the second floor of the Public Service Building, 255 Capitol St. N.E. in Salem. The state education board plans to vote on the rule at its January meeting.

Divided community

School community members and native people, are divided on the proposal.

Critics of Native American mascots oppose any exception to the ban because they view the imagery as denigrating to native people. Even if the school community is well intentioned, they say, the depictions rarely reflect the local native culture.

Hillsboro resident Jacqueline Keeler, member of the Navajo Nation, said local Native American mascots depict Plains Indians rather than local tribes.

“They’re mascoting my culture without my consent,” Keeler said.

She said Native American mascots are rooted in racism. In its ban on Native American mascots, the state education board cited studies that showed such mascots had a negative impact on Native American students’ self-esteem and social identity development.

Some school community members say the exception fails to go far enough because it excludes schools that depict their Native American mascots with a sense of respect and pride.

Under the proposed rule, Warrenton High School’s mascot, the Warriors, would need to change because the name omits the name of a federally recognized tribe. Warrenton High School sits on land where the Clatsop lived, but the Clatsop have no federal recognition, said Mark Jeffery, superintendent of the Warrenton-Hammond School District.

“In the conversations I have had with community members, it’s clear that it’s not their perception the mascot was used to denigrate or harm Native Americans” Jeffery said. “They saw it as a symbol of strength and connection to our historic past.”

The Warrenton-Hammond School Board will follow whatever rule the state education board sets, Jeffery said.

“We just need some clarity,” Jeffery said.

Strengthening ties to tribes

Reyn Leno of the Grand Ronde Tribal Council said local tribes, rather than the state school board, should be allowed to decide whether a Native American mascot is appropriate. He said many people mistakenly believe the tribal council is behind the ban.

None of the school districts that could be eligible for the exception has reached a signed agreement with one of Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes. Molalla River School District has been strengthening its relationship with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde since 2013. The Molalla Indians are one of the banded tribes of the Grand Ronde, and the high school’s mascot represents that history and tie to the land, said Superintendent Mann.

The discussions with the tribe led to the school district adopting a fourth-grade curriculum in 2013, which teaches the history of local tribes.

“The overwhelming majority of community members with whom I have spoken and heard from are saddened by the thought that the mascot as it is and as it is currently represented would need to be abandoned,” Mann said.

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
email: pachen@portlandtribune.com
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