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News / Northwest

Kalama chooses salmon mascot

‘Fierce looking’ Chinook fish to represent schools

By Marissa Heffernan, The Daily News
Published: August 10, 2021, 6:51pm

KALAMA — The new Kalama mascot officially is a “strong, fierce looking” Chinook salmon, after the school board voted Monday to approve the new designs.

The new mascot “demonstrates strength, perseverance and unity,” a district press release said.

House Bill 1356 signed into law this past legislative session prohibits public schools from using Native American names, symbols or images as school mascots, logos or team names by 2022. There are a few exceptions. For example, the ban would not apply to public schools located on or partially on tribal reservations, as long as the use is authorized by the tribes.

Rep. Debra Lekanoff, a First Nations member from the state’s 40th District, sponsored the bill, saying she found the practice of stereotypical chants, war whoops, costumed mascots and regionally incorrect Native American imagery to be harmful to people and an impediment to improved relationships between sovereign nations.

Superintendent Eric Nerison said this new mascot was the culmination of a process the district “started quite some time ago.”

“We had been working with the (Chinook) Tribe in 2017 to come up with an alternative to the previous version of Charlie Chinook, (an alternative) that was not offensive and an inappropriate representation of Native Americans,” Nerison said. “That process stalled out as we ran into a variety of other challenges in the district.”

Nerison said the new state law meant that all connection to the tribe had to be eliminated from the mascot. The mascot committee, made up of parents, teachers and volunteer community members, sent out several community and school surveys. Overall, 71.5 percent of people surveyed wanted to retain the Chinooks name, even if it was not connected to the tribe.