- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2001

RIGGINS, Idaho — As names for sports teams go, it's hard to imagine one that might be more offensive to American Indians than the Savages.
That's the team name at Salmon River High School, just down the river from the Nez Perce Reservation. Yet there are no sit-ins, no demonstrations and no protests from tribal leaders.
In fact, the leaders of the Nez Perce tribe like the idea so much that, a few months ago, they paid for an artist to redesign the look of the team logo and paint a mural of the Savages on the walls of the school gym.
"It looks really good," said Wilford "Scotty" Scott, vice chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee in Lapwai, Idaho. "I thought the kids did a good job."
Such bonhomie between the tribe and the school could mean the Salmon River High School has pulled off the greatest public relations coup of all time, or the Nez Perce is the most politically incorrect Indian tribe in the nation. But school and Indian leaders say there's a third possibility, one that involves mutual respect, communication, cooperation and the ability to recognize that not all savages look alike.
Marilyn Giddings, principal of Salmon River, says the issue arose last year when another Idaho high school, also with a team named the Savages, became the target of Indian protests. "They had demonstrations, sit-ins, bad press it was very traumatic," she said.
Worried that Salmon River might be next, the principal took the issue to the student council. "I explained the situation and said, 'Are we going to roll over or fight?' The students said, 'Well, we don't want to roll over, but we don't want to offend anyone, either.'"
The students began debating how to make the name and image less objectionable, and came up with a novel idea: They would keep the Savages moniker, but change the look of the logo so it would not resemble an American Indian. Local artist Chris Burnett drew a warrior on horseback wearing feathers and carrying a long spear, but with decidedly lighter skin and long, dark blond hair.
"It came out looking something like a Germanic barbarian, like a Conan," Mrs. Giddings said, referring to the sword-and-sorcery hero. "It's not an Indian savage."
The school also decided to add a female savage, at the request of female students. "She's wearing a leather top and boots wrapped with leather straps up to the knee," Mrs. Giddings said. "Her long, blonde-brown hair is blowing in the wind."
Then the Nez Perce leaders got involved. His tribe never had taken an official position on the issue, but after reading of the decision to revamp the Savages, Mr. Scott convinced the executive committee to offer support.
"I went to the school and told them we were impressed with the initiative they were taking and told them we'd be happy to help," Mr. Scott said. "We'd never gotten involved in these controversies before. But a lot of people are offended by these names, and I guess they have a right to be."
With just 100 students in grades seven through 12 and a tight budget, the school gladly accepted the tribe's offer. Mr. Scott took a group of Salmon River students to Lewiston to see the work of local artists.
When he learned the school could not afford a new painting of its mascot, Mr. Scott went back to the tribal council. It voted to cut a check for about $1,500, enough to cover the cost of a mural.
"There were no strings attached whatsoever," Mr. Scott said. "I didn't tell them they had to use a certain artist or a certain design. We didn't have nothing to do with it. It was their design."
In June, the school hired artist John Dawly of Nez Perce Signs to paint murals depicting the male and female warriors, which now adorn facing walls in the gym.
Not everyone in the tiny logging town embraced the compromise.
"There were mixed reactions at first, because there's a lot of tradition at a small high school," said Riggins Mayor Bob Zimmerman, who works as a school counselor. "The students are accepting it very well. The older people are more resistant to change, but I think they'll come around."
Their resistance is understandable, Mrs. Giddings said. "You're changing history when you're changing the logo," the principal said. "People here still have their letterman's jackets with the Savages on them from 30 years ago."
The compromise might not work everywhere, but tribal and school leaders recommend their approach. They note that an added benefit has been the good will fostered between the tribe and the school.
"Their students were very impressive, the most courteous students I've ever worked with," Mr. Scott said.


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