Kitzhaber will OK school mascots bill

It would loosen ban on Native American imagery, nicknames

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SALEM, Ore. — Gov. John Kitzhaber says he'll sign a bill that would allow Oregon schools to retain Native American mascots under certain conditions after state lawmakers addressed concerns that led him to veto a similar measure a year ago.

The measure, approved unanimously in the state Senate on Friday, would loosen the Board of Education's 2012 ban on depicting Native American mascots in their nicknames and imagery.

"I'm pleased that everyone stayed at the table and worked toward a bipartisan compromise that will increase awareness, respect, and communication between tribes and neighboring communities," Kitzhaber said in a statement.

His spokeswoman, Rachel Wray, said he'll sign the bill if it clears the House without changes.

Schools would be allowed to keep Native American mascots under certain conditions, including the approval of an appropriate tribe and the Board of Education.

The state Board of Education in May 2012 approved a rule — one of the nation's strongest — that required Oregon schools to retire their Native American symbols by July 2017 or risk losing state funding. Eight Oregon high schools, such as the Roseburg Indians, would need to find new mascots under the current rule. Another seven schools identified as the Warriors would be allowed to keep their nickname but must change mascots or graphics that depict Native Americans.

The regulation would also apply to an unknown number of elementary and middle schools.

The Roseburg School Board had begun a legal challenge to the state orders, but abandoned it after learning it was unlikely to win. But Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, took up the issue with a 2013 bill and similar legislation this year.

"From the perspective of the people in Roseburg — and I am one — being a Roseburg Indian is a source of pride for me," Kruse said.

Kruse was concerned that the mascot ban was enacted outside of the state's government-to-government relationship with the tribes and could have "set a very good relationship in a backwards mode."

Bill SB 1509 seeks to respect that relationship, he said, by allowing the tribes to have a say in the Native American representations and the conditions under which schools may be allowed to continue their use. The bill would give the state Board of Education until Jan. 1, 2017, to work out general rules for mascot use agreements in consultation with the tribes.

Kruse said he hoped it would also lead to more opportunities to educate Oregon children about the history and impact of Native Americans in the state.