SALEM — Opponents of a proposal to ban all American Indian names and images from use as high school mascots strongly supported a suggestion from Rep. Sherrie Sprenger to allow waivers for districts that work out a mutually acceptable mascot use with local tribes.
The Oregon Board of Education is considering a rule that would strip state funding from any school or district that continues to use a Native American mascot after July 1, 2017. The rule defines “mascot” as any name, symbol or image that depicts or refers to an American Indian tribe, individual, custom or tradition.
In Reedsport’s case, the team “Braves” would not be allowed.
State Superintendent Susan Castillo, hearings officer Cindy Hunt and three members of the state board — Chairwoman Brenda Frank, Samuel Henry and Duncan Wyse — heard testimony for close to five hours Friday on the proposed rule.
A vote is expected at the board’s meeting May 17. Public comment will be taken until noon that day.
Of the nearly two dozen people who spoke Friday morning, most said they oppose a ban. Seven spoke in favor. The afternoon’s testimony was more evenly split. Many of the speakers on both sides of the issue noted personal tribal backgrounds.
Rep. Sprenger, R-Scio, gave board members copies of their rule with her suggested waiver amendment. Under her proposal, “if there’s an agreed-upon resolution and acceptance, it (names and logos) can be allowed,” she said. “I think this would bring us closer to the goal I have, which is communication, understanding and respectful dialogue within a community.”
Sprenger said she would leave the definition of “local Indian tribe” up to the tribal nations themselves. She said she wasn’t sure, for the mid-valley, whom to include in the conversation. “Teach me who to call.”
Speaker after speaker cited Sprenger’s comments as examples of the need to delve into the history and culture of Oregon’s native peoples as part of standard curriculum. Several pointed out that images most used by Oregon high schools, of feathered war bonnets and warriors on horseback, are linked to Plains Indians and not coastal tribes.
Susan Hansen, a Molalla resident who objects to the Molalla Indian name and logo, said, however, that the actual depiction makes little difference. “However realistic they are, races of people should not be made lucky-charm mascots,” she said.
Robert Kentta, cultural resources director for the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, supports a waiver clause. He said Siletz Valley Charter School enrolls a large percentage of native children, all of whom have “a rightful claim to their ethnic identification” as members of a school also known as the Warriors, he said.
Ralph Gierke, a member of the Molalla School Board, objected to the state board’s attempt to make a decision he said rightfully belongs to Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes. He said the Indian mascot was created with approval from the area’s last Molalla chief and that his district has worked with the Warm Springs tribe and was initiating contacts with Grand Ronde.
Leslie Shepherd, a Central Linn High School graduate and currently second vice chair on the state board of education, said by telephone at the meeting that she also thinks the board is outside its jurisdiction.
“This is a topic I consider to be beyond the scope of the board of education,” she said. “I’m sure that each mascot is offensive to someone.”