Native American education gets closer to classrooms

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Resurfacing gym floors, lockers, jerseys and grand stands ornamented with Braves is expected to cost Banks School District thousands of dollars.If a tribal leader’s dreams come true, the Banks High School Braves will get to keep their Native American mascot, but that mascot will be more than just a sleek, familiar logo on the school’s walls and floors.

The controversial symbol of an underrepresented culture will become a link to the real faces and voices and friendship of the people the “Braves” name is supposed to represent.

But Reyn Leno, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, may need a little help from Salem first.

After Oregon’s Board of Education banned Native American mascots last year, the legislature passed a bill that would allow schools to keep their mascots if they worked out an agreement with the nearest of Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes.

For the Banks Braves, that would be Leno’s Confederated Tribes, a group of banded Native American tribes with ties to western Oregon. Although now headquartered in Grand Ronde, 60 miles southwest of Banks, tribal ancestors inhabited the whole Banks area centuries before the high school had Native American figures painted on its walls.

Current tribal members were ready and eager to work with the Banks School District. Although the Grand Ronde tribal council would have to determine the specific requirements of an agreement, Leno indicates education would be a key part.

According to Leno, the Confederated Tribes have developed a free educational program that traces tribal history “from time immemorial” to the present, including the tribes’ removal to reservations in 1855.Leno

In addition to teaching about tribal government and sovereignty, the curriculum would touch on native languages, traditional hunting and gathering, arts and crafts, and would involve field trips to the Grand Ronde reservation for Native American dancing, drumming and storytelling.

Reyn understands the pain caused by negative images of Native Americans. But he doesn’t think erasing a logo is the most effective — or cost-efficient — way to break through such stereotypes.

“Wouldn’t it be far more affordable to educate students than to tear up gym floors, remove signs and redesign uniforms and logos?” he said.

Gov. John Kitzhaber, however, vetoed the bill last month, siding with those who insist such mascots are demeaning to Native American students. He pointed to ambiguous language in the bill and to the fact that tribal members themselves are divided on the debate.

Se-ah-dom Edmo of the Oregon Indian Education Association (OIEA), for example, believes Native American-themed mascots “provide an opportunity for discrimination. They’re reminders of their racist history,” she said.

“We don’t see any of that stereotyping here in Banks,” where about 25 Native American students attend classes, said Superintendent Bob Huston. “We see pride and respect.”

But Edmo said that even if a school district’s students, staff and community members have respect for their mascots, opponent schools could still come up with derogatory and humiliating cheers or slogans during sports competitions.

The American Psychological Association called for the retirement of Native American mascots in 2005 based on a growing collection of reports that show harmful effects of American Indian sports mascots.

But Reyn said the banned names of tribal mascots “Indians, Braves, Warriors and Chiefs — are inspirational Native images and the Grand Ronde Tribe does not view their use as derogatory,” he said. “It is possible to use Native American mascots in a respectful manner when educated on them.”

Edmo said it’s a shame Native American education programs haven’t been in schools all along. “Districts should be doing it anyway,” she said. “Every district should know what their local tribe is and have relationships with them.”

But that could be difficult without the leverage offered by a law.

Had Kitzhaber not vetoed the bill, which required cultural diversity training for athletic directors and others, “We would’ve started making plans with the tribes of Grand Ronde,” Huston said. “But now it’s a moot point.

“It’s a disservice to everybody,” he said.

About 50 miles southwest of Banks, the 800-student Willamina School District is moving forward even without the incentive of a fight to save its mascot (the Bulldogs). The district will be trying out the Grand Ronde’s formal curriculum on a pilot basis this year.

Currently, an immersion program is an option for Willamina kindergarteners, who can spend half the day in school and half the day on the reservation. High school students also have the option of taking Chinuk Wawa for language credit, taught by Grand Ronde education program teachers.

The tribes’ education staff developed its more detailed, formal curriculum based on state standards for fourth-grade social studies, according to Angela Fasana, Leno’s daughter and a non-voting member of the Willamina School Board who serves as a liaison from the Grand Ronde.

And as part of her high school senior project, Fasana’s daughter, Cheyanne, has developed a Grand Ronde curriculum based on state standards for kindergarten, fifth-graders and sixth-graders.

“We think education is really the key in squashing concerns about mascots,” said Angela Fasana. “We strongly believe in educating people about how to use mascots and how to be respectful instead of just taking it away. I’m a firm believer in education being used as a way to break down misconceptions and stereotypes.”

Fasana said tribal members hope this pilot-program curriculum will be available for all school districts next year.

Huston said the Banks School Board would have to review it and approve it before the district adopted it.

Meanwhile, the high school can hang onto its 103-year-old mascot at least a few years longer.

Even with the state education board’s ban still standing, schools have until 2017 to change their mascots.

If they refuse, they’ll lose state funding.

But Kitzhaber has said he’s willing to work with legislators to craft a compromise before then.

“Why not use this as an opportunity?” Siobhan Taylor of the Confederated Tribes asked, with cash-strapped schools in mind. “Here we are, a tribe, saying, ‘Let us help you.’”

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