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State rep advises school officials on mascot

Sherrie Sprenger: 'This is an opportunity for school districts to ... reach out to their tribes'

Photo Credit: FILE - The cartoon Indian used as a mascot by Scappoose High School. While the school may be able to keep its nickname 'the Indians,' the mascot and other imagery may be on the chopping block in any agreement between the Scappoose School District and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde for the use of the name.An Oregon state representative from Scio was a special guest at a meeting of the Scappoose School District’s board of directors Monday, Aug. 11.

Rep. Sherrie Sprenger said she wants school districts like Scappoose to be able to retain Native American-themed mascots and team names, but she emphasized that political wrangling in Salem over the mascot issue gives schools and tribes an opportunity to teach students more about Oregon’s indigenous peoples.

Sprenger’s son attends Lebanon High School — which, like Scappoose Middle School, calls its athletic teams the Warriors.

“I didn’t do this and invest the last two and a half years because of football helmets — and I’m a football mom, and we’re a very sports-minded family — but there are priorities, and we’re an educational institute,” said Sprenger. “I took this battle on because my son ... didn’t know, and neither did I, that our local tribe was the Kalapuya Band of the Grand Ronde until this process started, because we just don’t have a close relationship, because our tribe is kind of over there a ways, and we’ve got the Calapooia River, so we know that’s because some Indians settled there.”

Sprenger added, “I was educated in the Oregon school system. I learned a lot about the Navajo and Cherokee. That’s not Oregon. And so this is an opportunity for school districts to authentically reach out to their tribes, build that relationship and bring some of that information into the classroom.”

Sprenger, a Republican, said she has made it her mission to visit each school district in the state where a school has a Native-themed mascot.

In addition to its Scappoose Middle Warriors, the Scappoose School District also has the Indians at Scappoose High School. Athletics at both schools are often referred to collectively as “Tribe.”

Sprenger was a leading lawmaker behind last year’s unsuccessful effort to effectively circumvent a State Board of Education decision requiring public schools to abandon Native mascots and imagery by 2017 or face losing state funding. Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber vetoed the 2013 bill, saying it was overly “broad.”

A second bill passed earlier this year with Kitzhaber’s support. The new law, which passed as Senate Bill 1509, provides a slightly narrower exception to the Board of Education’s ban.

“It was amended a lot. It was,” Sprenger said. “I’ve learned in the Legislature that sometimes you can’t get the whole apple. You take a bite of the apple, because sometimes your other option is none of the apple.”

While the bill Sprenger championed in 2013 would have allowed school districts to negotiate with the nearest federally recognized tribe to keep their mascots, team names and imagery, SB 1509 requires Board of Education approval for every such agreement. The board is responsible for establishing criteria that agreements between schools and tribes must meet in order to win approval.

The deadline for the Board of Education to write those rules is 2017.

“I have been assured multiple times that it is not the goal or the intent to drag feet until we don’t have rules,” Sprenger said.

But Sprenger stressed that how the law is ultimately implemented remains to be seen.

“I don’t know how it’s going to turn out at this point in the rule-making process,” said Sprenger, adding, “I’d encourage you to not do anything drastic. I would encourage you, if you’re laying down a new turf field, to be very cautious of what you would put in it. But I would encourage you to just hold tight otherwise.”

Stephen Jupe, superintendent of the Scappoose School District, said district officials have been in early talks with Justin Martin, a tribal representative and lobbyist for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

“He’s very clear they want to keep, as much as possible, the name ‘Indians’ in as many of them as they can,” Jupe said, while noting tribal opposition to some of the Native-themed imagery used in schools like Scappoose High.

“And that’s all part of the agreement that you all come to,” Sprenger responded, adding, “It really is working with the tribes, and if something isn’t appropriate, it should be removed.”

Jupe also said he supports the idea of educating students about local tribes.

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