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Oregon bans all Native American mascots in schools

May 18, 2012, 12:10 PM EDT

homeoftheindians AP

Every state with Native American mascots in some of their high schools, please step forward. Not so fast, Oregon! All Native American-themed sports mascots and nicknames in Oregon — Indians, Chiefs, Braves, whatever — are to be phased out by 2017, decreed the State Board of Education in a 5-1 vote on Thursday. Call them all Chief Nomo, as in no more.

The idea is nothing new — human rights groups have been protesting the use of Native American mascots for sports teams since the 1960s. The first high-profile case was at Stanford University, which switched from the Indians to the Cardinal in 1981, after having dropped the Indian logo in 1972. Many colleges and high schools have followed suit, but many have not. Pro sports teams have been especially stubborn. Their reluctance to change is no surprise — branding is involved. And branding equals money.

Likewise, many Oregon residents are not down with the ban. Take the Molalla High School Indians, for example.

During a time when districts are finding it hard to provide basic services, this will be another strain on their budgets. At Molalla, for example, the school estimated it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to trade out the old mascot. In some areas, the school has already started. The word “Indian,” for instance, has already been taken off of uniforms.

“They’ll have to find every little thing,” said Jennifer Satter, a mother of a Molalla High student and a member of the school’s budget committee. “How can this be our top priority? Our kids are suffering.

“There are so many more pressing issues.”

Some board members seemed to sympathize with the communities’ concerns, but ultimately found research that Native American-themed mascots could be detrimental to the health and safety of students more compelling.

“There’s a collective right that exists here,” said board Vice Chairman Artemio Paz. These sorts of mascots produce “racism and unnecessary bullying. We do not allow that to exist for any of our populations.”

Of course then someone had to inject religion into the debate.

Leslie Shepherd, who voted against the ban, said she felt it was selective and, if passed, should also include images like Devils and Saints.

I think Oregon is going about this the right way: if you’re going to ban something, ban it. Do not do like my high school did and try to have it both ways. In the 1990s the Sequoia Cherokees (home of Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban!) decided to eliminate its Cherokee mascot, but keep the name. They then adopted the raven as the school mascot … so a costumed raven paraded at school football games while the team remained the Cherokees. Much mocking and derision ensued. All Sequoia grads were filled with shame.

Anyway, Oregon schools have until the fall of 2017 to change names and mascots. No more teepees on the football field, either. Oh by the way, the board decided that the name Warriors will not be banned. That’s both good news and bad for Lebanon High — they’ll be able to keep their name, but that logo will have to go.

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