With the Oregon Board of Education decision late last month, 14 public schools, including our neighboring Reedsport Community Charter School, will need to change their Native American-themed mascots by 2017.
The board is upholding the original law passed in 2012 by rejecting an amendment to that law that would’ve allowed schools to keep their mascots with permission from local tribes. Whether the state board can summarily negate the legislature’s amendment remains to be seen. But for now, schools who cleave unto their Native American icons will lose state funding.
Reaction from some people in the affected schools has been, shall we say, less than sensitive. People with close affinity to and affection for their schools are genuinely angry. Reedsport, for example, has identified with “The Braves” for generations.
But this isn’t just an example of political correctness gone overboard. Rather, this is just one more step toward necessary respect of other cultures and other world views.
We’re not surprised that Reedsport didn’t get much response from the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians when it attempted to engage in dialog over the Braves mascot. We don’t profess to know exactly why; but we suspect that the Confederated Tribes didn’t see dialog to be in its best interests.
And why should it, or any other Native American tribe, for that matter.
Fact is, these Native American mascots are Western European caricatures invented by second-comers to the Americas. They have little or no relation to actual Native American culture. Rather, they represent the eradication of peoples and their identities in deference to a conquering invader.
Some people may not appreciate how demeaning those images are or how the appropriation and mangling of a culture can be offensive. But we as Americans have been trying over the last two centuries to create a country that recognizes and respects all peoples, all beliefs, all cultures. That effort can’t be blocked just because some of us want to cling to high school glory years.
Some of the most offensive of these icons have already been eradicated (think Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo), and secondary and post-secondary educational institutions throughout North America have been eliminating their school mascots in recent years.
Time for Oregon to get on board.