Oregon Legislature could alter mascot ban

Three bills would ease restrictions on schools that utilize Indian nicknames

SALEM — The state Board of Education's decision to ban American Indian mascots is less than a year old but attempts are already being made to weaken it.

The board last May gave Oregon schools until July 2017 to comply or risk losing state funding. The rule, one of the nation's strongest, requires 15 high schools, mostly in small towns, to erase Native American logos from uniforms, sports fields, trophy cases and other items.

Schools identified as the Braves, Indians and Chieftains also must adopt new nicknames. Schools called the Warriors are allowed to retain their nickname if they alter their mascot.

Although the board's vote was nearly unanimous, public opinion was more evenly split and legislators have responded with a trio of bills.

Senate Bill 215 and House Bill 3397 would let schools keep their mascots if they get permission from a nearby tribe. Senate Bill 501, meanwhile, would prevent the education board from withholding money because of the mascot issue.

At a public hearing this week, supporters of SB 215 said giving Oregon tribes a say in whether schools keep their mascots is a reasonable compromise. Reyn Leno, tribal council chairman for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, said he is more concerned about how tribal history is being taught in schools than in the mascot debate.

"High schools do not adopt derogatory figures and slogans; they adopt admirable and inspirational figures," he said.

Others testified that while leaders of some of Oregon's largest tribes may not object to the mascots, the Native American population as a whole is deeply divided on the issue.

"When we have these names out there, they become common and people take it for granted that it's OK with everybody. It's not OK with everybody," said Art McConville, a Pendleton resident and member of the Umatilla tribe.

Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, who chairs the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee, said the differing opinions among Native Americans leave many Oregonians feeling "a little bit flummoxed about what the right thing (to do) is."

After the hearing, Hass said he's unsure if the bills will advance out of his committee.

"It's difficult," he told The Register-Guard. "I think we'll let the issue breathe for a couple of weeks."

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