The Oregon State Board of Education passed a resolution on July 1st 2013, banning the use of Indian themed mascots in Oregon’s public schools. Over the next five years, eight schools with the names “Indians” “Braves” or “Chieftains” will have to change their name and Indian mascot imagery and seven schools using the name “Warriors” will have to change their mascot imagery, or risk the loss of state funding. This ban was subsequently challenged by Oregon State legislators who introduced SB 215, which would relax the ban and allow some high schools to retain their mascots as long as they do so in consultation with the geographically closest federally recognized tribe.
As one might expect, both the original ban and SB 215 had strong supporters and opponents. The Oregon State Senate passed SB 215 on July 15th 2013. Governor John Kitzhaber proceeded to veto SB 215 on August 16th 2013 leaving the original ban in tact.
For nine weeks, our team conducted fieldwork, collecting archival materials and conducting interviews. The first community we visited, Enterprise, Oregon, had already gone through the process of changing their high school mascot from one that was Indian themed to a non-Indian themed prior to the statewide ban. We chose the City of Enterprise as part of our project in order to get a sense of how this transition took place, gain important insights, and identify best practices other communities could employ when making this transition. In addition, we visited two communities effected by the ban, interviewing high school principals, vice principals, superintendents, athletic directors, as well as Native American community members concerning their thoughts and feelings on Indian themed mascots and the statewide ban.
We meet wonderful people, we were challenged in our thinking about the issue, and we obtained a tremendous amount of data on the topic. Our findings are important and timely. As I turn to the task of report writing, I am struck by how this issue highlights the widespread lack of reliable information about Native Americans available to the general public, an issue legal scholar Walter Echo-Hawk (Pawnee) in his book In the Courts of the Conqueror: the 10 Worst Indian Law Cases, calls one of the most pressing problem facing Indian people today.
For more on the mascot issue visit: http://nativeappropriations.com/category/mascots
Brook Colley (enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, with Wasco, Japanese, and Irish heritage) is a Candidate of Philosophy in Native American Studies at University of California, Davis. In the 2012-2013 academic year, she served as visiting faculty in American Ethnic Studies at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. While teaching at Willamette, Brook developed and taught courses, including Theory and Methods of American Ethnic Studies, Native American and First Nations Film, Oregon Ethnicities, and Nine Tribes of Oregon. Currently, a recipient of a University of California, Davis Dissertation-Year fellowship, Brook’s dissertation Reframing Tribal Relations: At the Place Where the Cascades Fall investigates the emergence of the tribal casino economy in Oregon and events following the proposal by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to open the Bridge of the Gods Casino and Resort in Cascade Locks. This study contributes an inter-tribal Oregon lens to existing scholarship on the effects of Indian gaming since the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (1988). Brook’s research interests include Oregon Tribes; Indian Gaming and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act; Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation act; Native American and First Nations Film and Media; Native American gender and sexuality; and Indian-themed Mascots.