Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow), the only Native American currently serving in the Washington State Legislature, recently introduced legislation to ban the inappropriate use of Native American names, symbols, or images as public school mascots, logos, or team names.
Often, the use of Native American names, symbols, or images is premised on the promotion of unity or school spirit. However, this use fails to respect the cultural heritage of Native Americans and is contrary to the goal of making schools safe and respectful learning environments.
“It is well past time to phase out Native-themed mascots and logos. It is degrading that we are being portrayed as no different than a token,” said Lekanoff. “This bill is a small change that will bring about healing and show respect for our Native American neighbors and friends. It will give people some hope.”
Two decades ago, the United States Commission on Civil Rights concluded that the use of Native American images and names in school sports is a barrier to equality and understanding, and that all residents of the U.S. would benefit from the discontinuance of their use.
The Washington State Board of Education has twice adopted resolutions encouraging school districts to re-examine their policies and discontinue the use of Native American mascots. The first resolution was adopted in 1993, while the second was adopted in 2012, following Oregon’s ban on Native American mascots.
“No student, or group of students should have to carry the burden of representing an entire culture on their backs because the system cannot accurately and respectfully educate students for them. The picture we paint of these mascots is not of a real human, group of humans, or culture. It is a selection of preconceived notions and ideas that must be set straight,” said Ivy Pete, a Native American student at North Central High School in Spokane. Pete has served as a student activist in bringing the bill forward.
“My school currently has the mascot of a Chieftain, and we call ourselves the Cashmere Chieftains,” said middle school student and advocate Bea Kelzenberg. “But we aren’t Chieftains. We aren’t from a Native American tribe. We are students going to school with a passion to learn. But what isn’t being taught is the disrespectfulness behind our mascot.”
“This legislation calls for a time of healing. This proposal is past due. Native students have been disregarded and marginalized for far too long. It is time to truly honor our indigenous students and staff by finally removing these offensive mascots from our school system. It is time for us to heal,” said Bill S. Kallappa II, Education Liaison for the Nisqually Tribe and a member of the State Board of Education.
House Bill 1356 has been scheduled for a public hearing in the House Education Committee on Friday, February 5 at 10 a.m.