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Superintendent talks to tribal leaders about ways to retain mascot

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - While images like this Native American in a full feather headdress will likely need to be changed, discussion about Native American-themed artwork is not regulated by the Oregon State Board of Education's strict ban on Native American mascots. To keep the mascots, agreements between school districts and federally recognized tribes to keep the mascots must be approved by the board. Although a formal agreement must still be reached, it’s “very likely” the Scappoose School District mascot will remain the “Indians.”

On Thursday, Jan. 21, the Oregon State Board of Education approved an amendment that could allow the Scappoose School District to keep its Indians mascot if the district seeks approval from one of the state’s nine federally recognized tribes.

Use of Native American mascots was banned in 2012 in 15 school districts by the Oregon State Board of Education. The resolution required the mascots to be changed by 2017 or risk losing federal funding.

However, after several discussions and amendment changes the board determined last week that school districts could keep their mascots if they entered into an agreement with the nearest federally recognized confederated tribe.

The Scappoose School District has been in communication with the Confederated Tribe of Grand Ronde since early 2015 to reach an agreement like this. Superintendent Stephen Jupe and Tribal Council Chair Reyn Leno agree that it is “very likely” Scappoose will keep its mascot, but imagery and representation of the mascot will likely be altered.

“I’m pretty sure based on discussions ... that the full faced-Indian with the feather headdress, that you see in places and on letterhead and things like that, really has to go. And that’s fine,” Jupe said.

Leno said discussions between the Grand Ronde’s cultural department and each individual school district will help identify what names and symbols are culturally appropriate for each school district. Knowing what tribes traditionally lived in each area, what they wore, what they looked like and what they were known for will be key to determining what aspects will remain and what will change, Leno said.

The goal has never been to force school districts to spend education dollars on changing the mascots, Leno said. He said the council hopes to work proactively with school districts rather than force them to change something that could be expensive.

“We identified how hard every dollar is spent in every school district. Nobody wants to spend all that money changing mascots and logos on signs and in the gyms and all that,” Leno said.

The heart of the issue for the Grand Ronde has been the recognition of the confederated tribes as a sovereign nation, Leno explained. The change in school board legislation gives the tribes a position of power as a sovereign nation in determining what is taught and represented in the public school system. Rather than simply being a voice of concern, the tribes have clout in decision-making now, he explained.

How the agreement will work

The agreement between the Grand Ronde and the Scappoose School District requires State Board of Education approval of several specific components.

A public forum for all community members to submit oral and written comments must be held prior to implementation. The agreement lasts for a maximum of 10 years, with reviews completed every five years, and can be broken by either side at any time through an appeal process.

The document will determine allowable mascot titles and names and what symbols can be used to represent those mascots. Jupe said, however, the agreement doesn’t specify that any changes to artwork in the school must be made, like the obelisk tower outside the Scappoose High School football field and the totem poles outside Grant Watts Elementary School.

Additionally, the State Board of Education’s ruling recommends a Native American educational component be added to fourth-grade, eighth-grade, and tenth-grade classroom curriculum. Leno said proper education about tribal history has been a concern all along.

“We want the correct history of the nine tribes to be taught in the schools,” Leno said.

While a date has not been determined for a public forum to be held, Jupe said the next step in the process will be gauging the opinion of people in the school district.

“From my position, you know, I need to confirm that the community is willing to accept the conditions that Grand Ronde [will] put on us using the mascot and that the community still wants to use the Native American mascot,” Jupe said.

Jupe added, however, that he has spoken with many people who feel grounded in the mascot and don’t want it to be changed, although they’re willing to change the representation of it.

Scappoose Athletic Director Robert Medley held similar sentiments.

“I’ve lived in Scappoose all my life, and I’m excited to keep the name and honor our Native American mascot and our history,” Medley said.

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