Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Nov. 30, 2021

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2 Tri-Cities schools may need to change their Native American mascots after all


KENNEWICK — Kennewick is starting to look at choosing new mascots for two of its high schools as a deadline set by a new state law nears.

But school officials are still hoping they won’t need to make the changes as they work with three area tribes to get permission to keep using the Braves and the Thunderbirds.

The school district contacted the Yakama, Umatilla and Colville Confederated tribes in an attempt to get permission to keep using the mascot names for Kamiakin and Legacy high schools.

They want to use an exception built into the new Washington law that requires school districts to stop using Native American names, symbols or images as mascots, logos or team names by Jan. 1, 2022.

“Our goal as a district is to develop positive working relationships with our neighboring tribes,” according to a letter sent to parents on Monday. “Having a positive relationship also means ensuring that Native mascots honor the Native American community.”

The letter points out that the district uses the Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State curriculum, which was required by state law in 2015.

Kennewick officials were hoping that Kamiakin’s link with the Yakama Nation would help their case, but the tribe has been slow to address the school district’s request.

According to a letter sent to parents on Monday, district leaders said they met with the Yakama tribal council recently, and heard “diverse feedback and perspectives” on the mascot issue.

In addition, officials met with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation’s director of curriculum.

While the state is allowing the district to ask the Oregon-based tribe, the district didn’t say whether they got an answer.

Without a definitive answer, the Kennewick district is moving ahead with the process to change the mascots in November. They want to have something in place in case they don’t receive permission ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline.

Kamiakin High School history

Kamiakin High School has a history with the Yakama Nation after the district received permission in 1970 to use the chief’s name.

The school was named after Chief Kamiakin, a leader of the Yakama, Palouse and Klickitat people in the mid-1800s in southeastern Washington.

Officials said they picked the name out of respect for area indigenous people. At the time, administrators worked with the tribe and Kamiakin’s relatives, said school officials at the time the state law was passed.

Tribal members, including Kamiakin’s great-great-great granddaughter, were involved with opening the school in 1970. Events included a presentation about the history and culture of the Yakamas. The Braves name was chosen to symbolize “courage and strength,” she said. And recent years, the Yakama Nation has not complained to the district.

Past requests

This is only the latest in a series of requests that schools move away from using Native American names and symbols for their mascots.

The state Board of Education adopted a 1993 resolution asking districts to review “building names, mascots, logos, activities, events, portrayal of caricatures and behaviors” to make sure they weren’t derogatory.

The board returned to the issue in 2012 with a resolution directing districts to stop using the names and mascots. At the time, Kennewick leaders said the the topic had come up over the years, but there was never a serious push to change it.

The state returned to the issue during the recent session of the Legislature. The bill had widespread bipartisan support, passing 92-5 in the House and 40-9 in the Senate. Tri-Cities Reps. Matt Boehnke and Brad Klippert and Sen. Sharon Brown voted against the bill.

In Washington state, 35 of the 420 high schools in the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association have Native American-themed names, such as the Raiders, Chiefs and Red Devils.

In addition to the Braves and the Thunderbirds, The Wahluke Warriors from Mattawa and the Touchet Indians from in Walla Walla County were among the schools on the list.

There hasn’t been any word on whether the other two schools have received permission to retain their mascots.