MHS - Molalla High School Indians “Once an Indian, always an Indian” has been the battle cry for many Molalla High School alumni, students and families during the past year. But with the ruling that came down from the Oregon Board of Education last May banning Native American mascots, Molalla must soon pick a new name for its high school mascot.

Superintendent Tony Mann said Friday that a process is underway in the Molalla River School District to bring the school board, parents, alumni and current students together to identify a new mascot.

Many may have clung to the hope that with the 2014 passage of Senate Bill 1509, which allowed district school boards to enter into approved written agreement with a federally recognized Native American tribe for use of a mascot that represents a local tribe, Molalla could keep its “Indian” mascot.

But Mann said despite that ruling by the Oregon senate and legislature, the district must comply with the state board of education ruling and come up with a new team mascot by 2017 or lose state funding.

“It’s clear that we are getting conflicting messages between the legislature and senate bill 1509, which would allow school districts to keep their Native American mascots, and what the state board of education has declared,” Mann said Friday. “The state board has indicated that they will not approve of any Native American mascot, regardless of what SB 1509 said. So if we don’t follow the state board recommendaiton, we could lose state funding.

“That puts a community like us in a hard place. It catches us in the middle between two parts of our government democracy.”

Mann said right now, the district is developing plans to work the issue through committee at the local level.

“Molalla has a mascot people can have pride in and feel a conneciton with the community’s history, but knowing there is a risk of losing state school fund money, we have also begun the process of deciding how to engage with the entire community,” he said.

The school board has not yet finalized the charter for a committee, but he expects that charter will be ready in coming weeks.

Mann said the Grand Ronde tribe ought to be invited into the conversation with the district at the committee level.

“Our hope is members of the Grand Ronde Tribal Council will be able to sit on our committee of community members, students and staff and hopefully at least one member of the Grand Ronde tribe,” he said. “To identify a new mascot that connects with the history of the region is really important — a mascot that people can be excited about, and that also complies with state board of education rules.

“This committee is going to engage the full community in a discussion that will include online engagement,” he said. “There will also be a town hall engagement to identify the right process, and the committee will drive that process. Every voice that wants to be heard on this — to identify a new mascot — will be heard. It’s the community voice together with students that matters most.

State board members voted unanimously against an amendment that would have allowed schools to keep team mascots such as the Indians, Warriors, Braves or Chieftans.

In making their decision, board members reviewed studies that indicated Native American mascots may promote discrimination, pupil harassment and stereotyping. They also studied dropout rates and discipline data which showed that last year, 3,130 Native American students enrolled in Oregon high schools. About 200 of those attended schools with Native American mascots. Those students comprise only 2 percent of state enrollment, but represent 4 percent of dropouts statewide.