Should Oregon ban Native American mascots? What if tribes OK them?

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

A year ago, the state Board of Education banned all Native American mascots, names, and images from Oregon public schools, effective in 2017. There are 15 schools that still have the mascots.

By large bipartisan votes, the Oregon Legislature passed legislation to create an exception to that rule. SB 215 would allow the schools to use the mascots, if they get written approval from the nearest federally-recognized tribe.

Governor Kitzhaber opposed the bill, saying it was too broad an exemption, and has served notice that he is considering a veto. His deadline is Monday.

What do you think? Should Oregon ban all Native American mascots? And should there be an exemption if a local tribe approves it?

Here's two editorial takes. The Eugene Register-Guard opposes the bill:

The legislation is well intentioned, as are the schools that have adopted Indian mascots. But the mascots are unavoidably offensive. No other racial group is caricatured as Indians are — not blacks, not Asians, not Latinos, not anyone. Too often, the caricatures extend beyond the supposedly dignified representations of Indian chieftains and incorporate war whoops or dances. Even if students at a school with an Indian mascot show perfect respect toward Native Americans, they’re likely to encounter ugly words or gestures when they meet teams from other schools on the football field or basketball court.

The assent of a nearby tribe won’t make those problems go away. The assent may be granted under a kind of duress — tribes need good relations with their neighbors. Even if a tribe’s assent is freely given, the tribal government can’t speak for all members. And the best academic study of the effects of Indian mascots showed that those Native Americans who objected least to the caricatures were harmed the most, because they go furthest toward internalizing the stereotypes.

And the Albany Democrat-Herald supports the bill:

Despite Kitzhaber’s concerns that Senate Bill 215 goes too far, our take on the bill (which was shepherded on the House floor by Scio Republican Rep. Sherrie Sprenger), was that it amounted to a smart compromise between different sides of a particularly divisive issue. ...

Kitzhaber said he would prefer a somewhat narrower exemption used by the NCAA, which allows schools to reach agreements with tribes to use specific tribal names as mascots. So, for example, Florida State University can use the “Seminoles” nickname.

But even that compromise isn’t likely to satisfy people who see racism lurking behind every Native American-inspired mascot name, so it’s hard to see what Kitzhaber thinks he’s gaining here.

For the record, here's how the Board of Education summarizes the rule:

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.

The 15 high school mascots at issue are:

I'd like to hear our community weigh in. What's your take?

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