Oregon bans American Indian team names, mascots for schools

Reuters News
Posted: May 19, 2012 1:39 AM
Oregon bans American Indian team names, mascots for schools

By Teresa Carson

PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - The Oregon state board of education has banned public schools from using American Indian names and mascots for their athletic teams, out of a concern they disparage native American people.

The move is believed to be one of the nation's most sweeping prohibitions of its kind in favor of native Americans who say their culture is stereotyped by a number of sports teams.

It follows years of controversy surrounding a range of teams, from the Cleveland Indians in Major League Baseball to the Washington Redskins of the National Football League.

The Oregon Board of Education voted 5-1 on Thursday to prohibit public schools from using names, symbols or mascots such as Redskins, Savages, Indians, Chiefs or Braves, although Warriors can still be used. The decision does not apply to colleges in the state.

Board member Duncan Wyse said the panel received passionate testimony from both sides in the debate.

"These are traditions; the names and mascots have deep meaning to local communities," said Wyse, who was one of the members who voted in favor or the ban.

In the end, "the evidence was overwhelming against the stereotyping and reducing people to caricature," he added.

A statement from the state Board of Education said that key to its decision was research which showed exposure to Native American mascots "had a negative impact on the self-esteem and self-image of Native American children."

The decision left officials at over a dozen Oregon schools with American Indian team names deliberating how to scrap those monikers. They have until 2017 to makes the change.

One of those schools is Roseburg High in southern Oregon, where the team has been called the Indians since the 1930s.

"There has to be a grieving process," said Karen Goirigolzarri, principal of Roseburg High.

More than 100 organizations nationally have called for bans of the kind adopted in Oregon, including the National Indian Education Association, the according to the Oregon Education Board.

Se-ah-dom Edmo, vice president of the Oregon Indian Education Association, said the state's new ban appears to be this the "most stringent such law" in the nation.

"Our hope is that this will be something other states can look at and follow a similar process," she said.

In 2010, Wisconsin passed a law allowing people to challenge the use of Native American mascots by public schools, giving the decision making power to the state Department of Public Instruction. Four Wisconsin schools are changing their mascots and team names, said a spokesman for the department.

Some residents of Oregon communities where the local school will have to change its name have slammed the decision.

"I think it is idiotic. The state has no business in this," said Roseburg City Councilman Bob Cotterell.

Working with local tribes, Roseburg High scrapped a cartoon caricature of a Native American as its logo years ago and replaced it with a couple of feathers, Cotterell said.

"This is not a disparagement. It is about fighting spirit and going forward," he said.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Eric Walsh)