REEDSPORT — Supporters and opponents of Indian-themed school mascots will clash in a hearing in Salem next week.
The bill, which already has passed in the state Senate, would let schools such as Reedsport and Roseburg keep their “Braves” and “Indians” emblems.
“Those two names are causing some concern in the governor’s office,” said Rep. Sherrie Spenger, R-Scio, a House Education Committee member who is shepherding the bill. “Frankly, it’s those two names that I’m working the hardest to preserve.”
But Se-ah-dom Edmo, vice president of the Oregon Indian Education Association, said Sprenger should abandon her efforts.
“For me, this issue comes down to the individual rights and safety of students in classrooms,” Edmo said. “While opinion is wide-ranging on the issue, the research tells us that this is damaging to Indian students. I know Rep. Sprenger has gone on the record, saying that, if it is indeed damaging, she will stop pursuing it. I expect her to really stand by her words and try and read the research and see how damaging it indeed is, and withdraw her support for the bill.”
The bill was introduced by Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, a Roseburg High School graduate. If approved as written, it would let school districts negotiate with local tribes to keep their mascot names. That policy would overturn last year’s State Board of Education decision to ban Native American mascots as of 2017.
The bill cleared the Senate 24-4 last month. The House Education Committee will hold its hearing at 1 p.m. Wednesday in hearing room D at the state Capitol.
“It’s anticipated to move through Education,” Spenger said. “I’m communicating daily with the chair of that committee, speaker of the House and the governor’s office on the bill. We want to make sure he signs, and doesn’t veto, the bill.”
To meet the governor’s approval, the bill may be amended from the Senate version before Wednesday’s hearing, but Spenger wants to limit the changes.
“I don’t want to amend the bill to the point it doesn’t do anything,” she said. “I still want a bill that does something, and brings relief to the 15 or 16 districts that have Native American mascots. I don’t know how close to that goal we’re going to get, but I’m consistently pushing back, trying to keep the amendments to a minimum.”
Brenda Frank, who voted for the mascot ban when she chaired the state board, said the bill is flawed. She said it will be hard to determine which tribe a school district could even negotiate with, because students from several different tribes might attend the same school district.
“A member of an enrolled, sovereign tribe ... cannot negotiate for their non-tribal members, Frank said. “So, it’s discriminatory from the start. If I’m an enrolled member of the Klamath tribes, and I lived in the Grand Ronde region ... someone from the Grand Ronde region cannot move my right of discrimination aside. They don’t have jurisdiction.”
Edmo described the effort to preserve the mascots as “misplaced.”
“I think, if folks really have respect and reverence for Indian people and tribes, then they have a responsibility to teach what is true about those tribes,” she said. “Teach about sovereignty in their classrooms and not objectify Indian people.”
Both Edmo and Frank said they will travel to Salem to testify against the bill.