Kitzhaber vetoes Native American team name bill

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PORTLAND -- Gov. John Kitzhaber vetoed a bill Friday that would have allowed some Oregon schools to keep their mascots, nicknames and logos that depict Native Americans.

The bill would have reversed part of a ban on Native American mascots imposed by the state Board of Education, allowing schools to keep the mascots if they could secure approval from the nearest tribe.

Under the board's ban, eight schools known as the Braves, Indians or Chieftains must change names by 2017 or risk losing state funding. Seven schools called the Warriors can keep the nickname but cannot have a logo that depicts Native Americans.

Requiring schools to work with local tribes would have been an opportunity to build trust and understanding, said Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, who fought to pass the bill.

Sprenger said Friday she was "extremely disappointed with the governor's decision" and would keep working on the issue.

"I was very encouraged when I had conversations with the governor; however, once the staff ran interference and I was denied appointments with the governor by the staff, it became very difficult to have those kinds of conversations," Sprenger said.

In a letter announcing his veto, Kitzhaber cited a lack of consensus among tribal members about whether Native American mascots should be allowed. The governor said he's open to allowing a school to keep a Native American mascot if it was identified with a specific tribe and that tribe authorized it -- an idea similar to the NCAA's policy that allows the University of Florida Seminoles and University of Utah Utes.

However, Kitzhaber's proposal would not allow the affected schools in Oregon to keep their mascots or nicknames, because they use the more general Braves, Indians and Chieftains.

"I appreciate the sponsors' desire to promote conversations about diversity and inclusion in their local schools," Kitzhaber wrote. "Their intent is sincere, and I share it."

The House and Senate both voted overwhelmingly to ease up on the mascot ban. The issue could re-emerge when lawmakers return to Salem in February.