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State education board OKs exception for mascot ban

Scappoose School District likely to keep Indians mascot with approval from tribe

SALEM - The Oregon Board of Education approved a compromise Thursday that makes an exception to its strict ban on American Indian mascots.

 The rule allows Oregon’s 15 school districts with native mascots to keep the mascot if the district obtains approval from one of the state’s nine federally recognized tribes.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: PARIS ACHEN - Se-ah-dom Edmo, president of the Oregon Indian Association, speaks to the Oregon Board of Education Thursday to oppose an exception to the board¹s ban on American Indian mascots.
 A previous proposal put out for a public hearing in December also would have required the mascot to include the name of one of the state’s federally recognized tribes, which would have limited the exception to only three of the 15 districts. That provision was dropped after education board members met with tribal

leaders after the Dec. 21 public hearing.

 The ban, enacted in 2012, is due to take effect July 1, 2017. Fifteen school districts are affected, including the Scappoose School District.

 Legislation in 2014 forced the Board of Education to develop rules by January 2017 providing for an exception to the ban but still gave the board authority to reject individual native mascots.

In the past, the board had been resistant to relaxing the ban in light of research that suggested the mascots have a negative effect native students’ self-esteem.

But support for the exception from the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, which represents 27 tribes, tipped the scales on the board.

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 Grand Ronde tribal council.

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

Mollala River School District, for instance, adopted a fourth-grade curriculum created by the tribe.

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

“The proposed rule allows the tribes to have the determination when a mascot is culturally significant to the tribe,” Giffen said. “The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, 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.”

The Grand Ronde’s position on the exception clashed with that of the Oregon Indian Education Association and some American Indian organizations, such as the National Congress of American Indians, that have focused energy to abolishing native mascots.

Se-ah-dom Edmo, president of Oregon Indian Education Association, said research indicates that native mascot promote discrimination.

“Since 2012 what else has happened around the country?” Edmo said. “Well, we’ve also seen, and this is out of Alabama, a local school that had an Indian mascot and their rivals created a 20-foot banner, which said, ‘Hey Indians, get ready to leave on a Trail of Tears Round 2, so again, acts of discrimination happening within a school.”

Edmo said the loophole the education board approved sends a message “that we are O.K. with the notion of negotiating acceptable levels of objectification of native people in general.”

She said American Indians who don’t belong to one of the federally recognized tribes have no official representation before the education board but that their voices should be considered.

She called the exception “a mistake” and said the Board of Education “would become complicit” in acts of objectification and discrimination against native students.

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.