Legislators fume over Native American mascots

By Cindy Brovsky
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Sen. Suzanne Williams’ proposal that all Colorado primary public schools and charters with Native American mascots get approval from a state commission, change the mascot by 2013 or face a $1,000 monthly fine has riled a northern school district previously embroiled in the issue.

Yuma High School Indian logo
Logo courtesy Yuma High School

“It’s interesting in these worst economic times for education we are dealing with this,” said Eaton Re-2 School District Superintendent Ron Miller, whose middle and high school mascot is the Reds.

“We have to cut $1 million from our budget and this lady wants to fine us $1,000 a month for our mascot? The community has viewed our mascot not as disrespectful but a sense of pride,” Miller said. “The mascot is on our gym floor and on the uniforms. Who is going to pay to change that?”

Other Colorado schools estimate it would cost between $100,000 to $200,000 to change mascot logos printed on uniforms, gymnasium floors and walls, dugouts, scoreboards, yearbooks, trophies, stationary and buses. Those expenses would have to be covered by the individual school districts, according to the bill.

The $1,000 monthly fines would be credited to the State Education Fund.

Williams, an Aurora Democrat of Native American ancestry, has said her goal is not to ban the mascots but to make sure schools use them respectfully and not as caricatures. Williams and House sponsor Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, did not respond to several requests for comment.

Statewide, there’s an estimated 17 to 20 primary schools that still have Native American mascots, which include the Indians, Warriors, Reds, Redskins, Braves, Chiefs and Savages. Since 1990, several schools and colleges changed their mascots.

Arvada High School switched from the Redskins to the Reds in 1993, stopped using its Indian mascot and adopted a bulldog. The University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo changed from the Indians to the Thunderwolves, Fort Lewis College in Durango from the Raider to the Skyhawk and Adams State College in Alamosa adopted the Grizzlies over the Indians mascot.

Eaton Elementary School, north of Greeley, gradually phased out its Little Braves mascot, an official said. But Eaton middle and high school officials declined to change the Reds mascot in 2002 — also referred to as the Fightin’ Reds — after a group of University of Northern Colorado students formed an intramural basketball team and dubbed themselves the Fightin’ Whities as a protest. The Eaton mascot is a caricature of a Native American with a crooked nose, wearing a loin cloth and a feather.

“Some Colorado high school has the cowboys as a mascot,” Miller said. “Should they have to get approval from a cowboy organization? How about the Bush High School Beetdiggers? Will they need approval from the beet farmers?”

Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, said he co-sponsored the bill along with four other senators after hearing the Lamar School District in Eastern Colorado are nicknamed the Savages. The bill is co-sponsored by five House members as well.

“Some people will scoff that we are being politically correct but depending on your nationality, some names are offensive,” Tapia said.

Lamar Superintendent Wayne Graybeal disagrees the community is showing disrespect for Native Americans.

“This periodically comes up but it was the community’s decision to adopt the mascot and in no way do we mean it to be demeaning to Native Americans,” Graybeal said. “I guess if the law is passed, we will comply with the law.”

Yuma High School Principal Dave Vondy said instead of targeting his school’s Indian mascot legislators should recognize Yuma High being ranked by U.S. World Report News in the Top 10 percent of all high schools nationwide and the school’s 1A state football championship. The school changed its mascot from the Cornhuskers in 1935 at the urging of a principal who did extensive research on the Yuma Indian Tribe.

“Sen. Williams should come out and see what our school is all about and the ways we recognize, highlight and respect the Yuma Indian Tribe,” Vondy said.

It could cost up to $200,000 to replace the school’s Indian logo, Vondy said. He has no idea how the school would remove the logo from a stone memorial outside the school.

At least two schools already have approval from Native Americans to use their mascots, officials said.

Arapahoe High School Principal Ron Booth traveled to the Wind River Reservation in Riverton, Wyo., 17 years ago to get support from the Northern Arapahoe to continue to use Warriors as the mascot. The Littleton school received the tribe’s approval and named their gymnasium after tribal leader Anthony Sitting Eagle. The school also agreed never to have the logo, which was designed by the tribe, painted on the gym floor, or have a mascot dressed as an Indian.

“Not all Native Americans are equally offended if the (mascot) is treated with dignity and respect,” Booth said, adding tribal leadership will visit the school in March to conduct a blessing and raise culture awareness.

The Arickaree School District in Anton, named after the Arickaree River that runs through Washington County, received approval from Arikra tribe members to use Indians as its mascot, said district business official Sara Walkinshaw.

“Our mascot is seen as honoring Native Americans,” she said.

The district near Yuma – which has 113 students from preschool through 12th grade – would have to spend nearly $100,000 to remove its logo from uniforms, stationary, trophies and yearbooks, Walkinshaw said.

“I would think there are way more important things the Legislature could discuss with this budget crisis than school mascots,” she said.

Bill Reed Middle School in Loveland changed its mascot from the Redskins about 10 years ago to the Warriors. Principal Todd Ball said Olympian and Native American Billy Mills advised the school and supported the change to Warriors.

“We changed to a more culturally sensitive (mascot) and we felt good about it,” Ball said. “If the law goes forward, we’ll do what we need to do.”

Cindy@coloradostatesman.com