School districts seek changes to state rules with more input from tribes

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Oregon school mascots, like the Scappoose Indians, are required to change by next year under new state rules. Oregon's Board of Education is considering an exception to that change.SALEM — After four years of debate, the Oregon Board of Education is poised to consider a compromise Thursday to its strict policy banning American Indian mascots.

The ban enacted in 2012 takes effect July 1, 2017, unless the board adopts the more lenient policy. Fifteen school districts could be affected, including Molalla High School and Warrenton High School.

Legislation in 2014 required the Board of Education to develop rules providing for an exception to the ban. In May, the board rejected another proposal for an exception. The board has until January 2017 to adopt a rule.

The proposal under consideration Thursday would allow a public school to keep an American Indian mascot when it reaches a written agreement with one of Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes. The school board would be required to hold a public hearing on the mascot and accept oral and written comments. A tribe would be allowed to revoke an agreement prior to its expiration date.

Tribes supportive?

The proposal has received mixed reviews from American Indians. Some oppose all forms of Indian mascots. Others, such as the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, say tribes, as sovereign governments, deserve the right to check off on mascots that highlight their culture. The Grand Ronde, for instance, is supportive of mascots that feature “warriors,” “braves” and “chiefs” in its name.

“I think Grand Ronde is optimistic that the Board of Education values Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes and has confidence that we will make culturally appropriate decisions based on the direction the Oregon Legislature has wanted to move on this issue,” said Justin Martin, a tribal lobbyist and Grand Ronde tribal member.

The rule gives tribes the ability to be involved in educating schoolchildren, teachers, administrators and other staff about how to respectfully depict and respond to American Indian mascots, Martin said.

In the Molalla River School District, for instance, the school board adopted a fourth-grade curriculum in 2013 that teaches about local tribal history. The curriculum came out of discussions with the Grand Ronde about how to preserve Molalla River’s Molalla Indian mascot, said Molalla River Superintendent Tony Mann.

'Mascoting our culture'

The education board held a public hearing in December on the proposed rules. At the time, the proposal was more restrictive in that it gave an exception only to mascots that incorporate the name of a federally recognized tribe. Out of 15 school districts with American Indian mascots, only three would have qualified for the exception.

After meeting with tribal officials during the past month, the education department dropped that requirement from the proposed rules, Martin said.

Hillsboro resident Jacqueline Keeler, member of the Navajo Nation, has vehemently opposed the use of Indian mascots.

“All of these schools, Molalla and Rogue River, are using Plains Indian culture,” Keeler said during a Dec. 10 public hearing. “They’re mascoting our culture. If these particular tribes are happy with being mascoted, then the mascot should be specific to their culture in their language using terms that will not in any way implicate my children or my culture.”

She cited a University of Buffalo proposal under consideration from May that found American Indian mascots “activate negative stereotypes” about Indians and other ethnic groups.

Schools with American Indianmascots:

Amity High School: Warriors

Banks High School: Braves

Lebanon High School: Warriors

Mohawk High School: Indians

Molalla High School: Indians

North Douglas High School: Warriors

Oakridge High School: Warriors

Philomath High School: Warriors

Reedsport High School: Braves

Rogue River High School: Chieftains

Roseburg High School: Indians

Scappoose High School: Indians

Siletz Valley School: Warriors

The Dalles-Wahtonka High School: Eagle Indians

Warrenton High School: Warriors

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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