Rogue River High School will be forced to drop its Chieftains mascot name and remove any related images if a State Board of Education proposal discussed Thursday is approved.
The board reviewed a rule targeting 15 public schools in the state which still have Native American team names and mascots, something the board has said is discriminatory and promotes stereotyping among students.
If approved — perhaps as early as May — the rule would be one of the nation's strongest, and require 15 high schools, mostly in smaller cities, to erase Native American mascots from uniforms, sports fields, websites, trophy cases and even school stationery by July 1, 2017.
Moreover, schools identified as the Braves, Indians and Chieftains would have to adopt a new nickname. Schools called the Warriors would be allowed to retain their nickname if they alter their mascot.
The rule would affect Roseburg High School, which uses the Indians nickname. The regulation would also apply to an unknown number of elementary and middle schools. A public hearing on the rule is scheduled for April 27.
Since the 1970s, more than 600 high school and college teams, including 20 in Oregon, have dropped Native American nicknames.
But some small communities have resisted the trend, saying their nicknames and mascots are a source of pride and tradition.
The six-member board tackled the emotional topic last month, and Thursday was the first public release of the formal rules.
The five-year transition period is intended to help districts pay for changes and give them time to pick a popular new nickname, said Cindy Hunt, government and legal affairs manager for the state Department of Education.
Contacted earlier in the day, Rogue River High School Principal Jesse Pershin noted that unlike some schools, Rogue River already had made numerous changes — including eliminating a Chieftain mascot who roamed the fields and stands at sporting events, and replacing pictures of chiefs with a spear symbol.
"We were more proactive," said Pershin. "We don't have a mascot."
Though the Chieftain is no longer the official school mascot, the name remains, and symbols of chiefs are still found across campus.
Some student athletes on campus Thursday said getting rid of the Chieftain would be disappointing.
"It's just a mascot; we aren't making fun of anything," said Seth Gretz, a Rogue River junior and track and field athlete. "It's part of our history and we aren't trying to stereotype."
Gretz said the school wouldn't have money to paint over murals, purchase new track hurdles and remove the logo from other areas of campus.
Softball player Hope Wolterman agreed that removing the chief images would upset a lot of people, including graduates of the school.
"It's just school spirit; there's nothing derogatory about it," said Wolterman, a junior.
The discussion of the state board to ban the images and mascots began in 2006 when a high school senior did a project on Native American mascots and presented it to the board.
The Enterprise School District in Eastern Oregon changed its mascot from the Savages and Outlaws several years ago at a cost of $15,000 to $20,000. Schools are responsible for covering any costs to remove symbols or alter mascots.
According to Hunt, the transition at Enterprise has taken a decade and is still not quite complete: "People in the community still have the old image."
Though no vote was taken Thursday, the board chaired by Brenda Frank, a member of the Nez Perce tribe, seemed in favor of the rules, with one member questioning whether they could be enforced by 2014. During the public comment period, state Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, a Republican from Scio, questioned why the issue is coming up now, when it wasn't on her radar when the legislature adjourned the first week of March.
"People are concerned about the process; they don't feel it's open," she said. "If the goal is understanding, I don't think we're getting there."
But most of the public comment was in support of the resolution, with Native Americans saying the mascots, even if well-intentioned, do not reflect their traditions.
"It is not an honor to be fictionalized," said Neva Lenk, 24, of Portland. "It is not an honor to be taunted by opposing team or schools because of your race. It is not an honor to be used as a mascot."
Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or email@example.com. The Associated Press also contributed to this story.