State challenges Native American mascots

Board of Education can't force schools to pick new names




SEATTLE — The state Board of Education is making another attempt at encouraging Washington schools to replace their Native American mascots.

In the past decade, about 10 schools have given up their Indian mascots. But another 50, including tribal schools, are holding fast to their nicknames as warriors, braves, redskins and red devils.

Local angle

The athletic teams at Vancouver’s Columbia River High School are nicknamed the Chieftains, and Indian-based imagery is used in representing the school.

Vancouver school district officials haven’t had a chance to address the topic since the board’s resolution Wednesday.

“We’ve not had an opportunity to review the State Board of Education’s advisory statement with our board of directors to determine a course of action, if any, that’s in the best interest of our students, staff, and community,” Superintendent Steve Webb said in email.

— Tom Vogt

The state board passed a resolution on Wednesday urging districts to stop using Native American mascots, but as board spokesman Aaron Wyatt acknowledges, it does not have the authority to mandate this change.

There are no consequences for schools that do not voluntarily choose a new mascot, Wyatt said Friday.

Oregon's state Board of Education voted in May to ban Native American mascots, nicknames and logos. Schools in that state have five years to comply. Eight Oregon high schools are affected.

Washington's resolution, which is similar to a resolution passed by the board in 1993, was inspired by research by the American Psychological Association citing the adverse effects of Native American mascots on students.

The resolution also mentions the widening achievement gap between Native American and other students and the call by a number of national organizations and tribes for this change.

"We are in the business of educating students," board member Bernal Baca said in a statement. "We need to remove any barrier that will impede student success."

Marcus Morgan, superintendent of the Reardan-Edwall School District near Spokane, said the issue hadn't been raised during his tenure with the school district but he was open to the idea of discussing it now.

All of Reardan's sports teams are the Indians and about a quarter of the district population are Native American or Alaskan Native students.

"I think it's maybe time to ask the questions," Morgan said Friday.

He said he would probably make some calls to tribal leaders as well as the school board and other community leaders to see if this is an issue the community wants to tackle.

Reardan schools have a long tradition of Native American students, as well as having enthusiastic sports fans, Morgan said. He doesn't think the Indian mascot has been seen as derogatory, but he added that the issue deserved more research.