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Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde council member addresses school board, public at forum

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Jon George, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde tribal council secretary, speaks to a crowd in the Scappoose High School auditorium Monday, Oct. 10 during a public forum. The event held Monday was designed to give community members a chance to voice their opinions and hear from tribal council members directly.The Scappoose School District received preliminary approval from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde to keep the school’s Indian mascot during a public forum this week.

The Scappoose School District held the forum Monday, Oct. 10, regarding the district’s use of Native American imagery and language for its mascot. In 2012, the Oregon Department of Education scheduled a ban of all Native American mascots or imagery, but in 2016 approved a resolution allowing districts to keep such mascots if they reached use agreements by 2017 with the nearest recognized tribes.

Maintaining the Indians mascot helps Native Americans retain their identity as a people, Jon George, a tribal council member, explained Monday night. George is the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde tribal council secretary.

“From our stance as native people, we looked at it almost as another form of termination. Of ‘Let’s wipe out any idea or any history or any meaning of the words Indians, braves, warriors and stuff,’” George said of removing Native American imagery outright. “[We] felt it as it was like we were terminated in 1954 under the Termination Act, that we were supposed to be, and looked upon, as no longer Indians.”

George told the audience the Indians mascot would remain, but said it is unclear if other imagery, such as the spear or the mascot logo of a muscular Native American man wearing a full feathered headdress, would be kept.

Tribal Attorney Rob Greene said the decision-making process on acceptable images would be conducted jointly by the school district and the tribal council’s cultural department.

A major component of the agreement also requires school districts to begin teaching culturally appropriate and accurate information about Native Americans to students. The Scappoose School District will likely adopt curriculum for grades four through eight that has been developed by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde’s education department, Superintendent Stephen Jupe told the Spotlight in September.

“I commend our education staff at the tribe who created our curriculum,” George said. “The most important part is to have the truth in schools.”

Monday’s public forum was intended to collect public input and feedback, although the school district had collected similar survey data online in early October.

Out of 1,117 survey responses, 78 percent of people wanted to keep the Indian mascot; 62 percent wanted to continue use of the word “Tribe” and the spear symbol; and 16 percent wanted to change the mascot entirely.

The majority of those who completed the survey were parents or high school alumni.

Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge, a Scappoose High School alumni, said he was in favor of keeping the mascot, but was incredibly supportive of educating students and the public with accurate information about the Native American tribes who lived in the Scappoose area.

“It’s not just about teaching our students, but getting it right and teaching the people in this community,” Burge said.

Burge also expressed support for building a cedar plank house, like Native Americans in the area used to live in, to establish a cultural learning center, or informational venue to educate the public as well.

Kikta AhiyayA, a Scappoose resident, said he opposed retaining the Indians mascot. AhiyayA is part Lakotan. He talked about his experiences growing up with discrimination, and asked the district to “find a replacement which is neither offensive nor objectifying of First Nations’ Peoples.”

George empathized with AhiyayaA and touched on his own experiences with discrimination as a child following the public comment period.

The forum was one part of the agreement process, which has yet to be finalized by the Scappoose School Board. A draft memorandum of understanding will be presented to the board in the near future, Jupe said Monday after the forum, although an exact date is unknown.

Once approved, the agreement must be presented to the Oregon Department of Education for final adoption.

“Today marks a wonderful friendship, I think, with Scappoose and the community here, and I thank you all for coming today,” George said. “With this partnership, also, it allows for us [as a tribe] ... that our story continues to live for generations to come.”

George presented school board members with handcrafted beaded necklaces as a show of gratitude for working amicably together with the tribe.

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