By Associated Press • 

Oregon Senate bill could affect mascot decision

The board last May gave Oregon schools until July 2017 to comply or risk losing state funding. The rule, one of the nation’s strongest, requires 15 high schools, mostly in small towns, to erase Native American logos from uniforms, sports fields, trophy cases and other items.

Schools identified as the Braves, Indians and Chieftains also must adopt new nicknames. Schools called the Warriors are allowed to retain their nickname if they alter their mascot.

Though the board’s vote was nearly unanimous, public opinion was more evenly split and legislators have responded with a trio of bills.

Senate Bill 215 and House Bill 3397 would let schools keep their mascots if they get permission from a nearby tribe. Senate Bill 501, meanwhile, would prevent the education board from withholding money because of the mascot issue.

At a public hearing this week, supporters of SB 215 said giving Oregon tribes a say in whether schools keep their mascots is a reasonable compromise. Reyn Leno, tribal council chairman for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, said he is more concerned about how tribal history is being taught in schools than in the mascot debate.

“High schools do not adopt derogatory figures and slogans; they adopt admirable and inspirational figures,” he said.

Others testified that while leaders of some of Oregon’s largest tribes may not object to the mascots, the Native American population as a whole is deeply divided on the issue.

“When we have these names out there, they become common and people take it for granted that it’s OK with everybody. It’s not OK with everybody,” said Art McConville, a Pendleton resident and member of the Umatilla tribe.

Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, who chairs the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee, said the differing opinions among Native Americans leave many Oregonians feeling “a little bit flummoxed about what the right thing (to do) is.”

After the hearing, Hass said he’s unsure if the bills will advance out of his committee.

“It’s difficult,” he told The Register-Guard. “I think we’ll let the issue breathe for a couple of weeks.”

Last May, the Amity School District discussed how the State Board’s decision could affect Amity High School’s Warriors mascot and the use of a Native American in formal headdress as its logo. Outgoing Amity Superintendent Reg McShane said at the time he discussed the matter at a State Board of Education hearing with Kathleen Tom, a council member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. According to McShane, Tom’s sentiment echoed what the current Senate Bill being proposed.

“Her indication was that she thought that the board should not be involving themselves,” McShane said, “and it should be between the schools and their local tribes.”

Last May, the school board said it was in agreement that it hoped an amendment would be added in the Board’s decision to allow for schools to work with local tribes. It wasn’t, and for the last 11 months, districts have been under the assumption they would be forced to meet the 2017 deadline.

McShane and the school board at Amity said they had worked with Grand Ronde in the past to make sure their portrayal of Native Americans was respectful, and they hoped that there could be more education on the matter.

“I do think that we could use the tribe and the resources to do some of the teaching,” McShane said at the time. “We would be happy as a district to see how we could do more of that.”

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