EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - Officials at one Lane County high school are optimistic a recent change in state rules may let them keep the school’s long-held Native American mascot name and image after all.
The Marcola School District is one of 14 in Oregon that was slated to drop its Indian mascot name and imagery by 2017 after the state Board of Education ruled in 2012 that all schools with such mascots must do away with them.
But the board changed its mind in January, saying school districts could seek to keep the mascots if they can get written approval from any one of Oregon’s nine federally recognized Indian tribes.
But working out such agreements, it turns out, is not easy.
Mohawk High School, in the Marcola School District northeast of Eugene, is home to the Mohawk Indians, a mascot it’s used since the school was established in the late 1920s, district Superintendent Bill Watkins said.
An image of an Indian with a mohawk and feathers in his hair adorns the floor of the school’s gym.
In an attempt to ensure the district won’t have to resurface the gym floor and do away with other elements of its mascot, Watkins met with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, based in Polk County, in August.
But the discussion has not yet yielded a clear, written deal.
“They said they would support us and that they were not a group that was against school districts using anything associated with North American Indians or North American natives,” Watkins said. “I’ve never met a finer group of people who embraced me and embraced the fact that we wanted to talk with them.”
Grand Ronde is about two hours’ drive northwest of Marcola, halfway between Salem and Lincoln City on Highway 18. The group represents five tribes - Kalapuya, Molalla, Rogue River, Shasta and Umpqua - that were consolidated on a reservation in 1856.
Tribal status was terminated when Congress passed the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act in 1954, according to the Oregon Historical Society. The tribe remained unrecognized for 29 years until Congress passed the Grand Ronde Restoration Act in 1983.
Watkins said that, in addition to verbally approving the Mohawk High mascot, Grand Ronde leaders have offered to hold assemblies at the school and to host Marcola district students at Grand Ronde.
“They’ve offered to provide a curriculum and history of the North American natives, to teach the kids the real history, not the Americanized version,” Watkins said.
The district hopes to slowly incorporate the curriculum being offered by the Grand Ronde tribe, Watkins said.
But the tribe says there’s no deal yet.
Justin Martin, Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde spokesman, confirmed that tribal leaders met with Watkins. But he said the tribe has not given an official affirmation of the Mohawk mascot.
“I don’t think it would be accurate to say that as of now there’s been an agreement,” Martin said. “Until we start those discussions and something is formally approved, I wouldn’t want to say that any agreement or conversation would be official.”
Under the new rules approved by the state education board in January, a school district must enter a written agreement with a tribe for official approval. The district also must hold a public hearing before any agreement being finalized. Plus, the agreement needs to win state board approval.
Another Lane County school district, Oakridge, says it, too, is trying to work a deal with the Grande Ronde.
Schools that want to keep their mascots have until Jan. 1, 2017, to reach an agreement with a tribe or risk losing state education money.
Watkins, who could have sought approval from any of the nine Native American tribes in Oregon, said he contacted the Grande Ronde because of the tribe’s affiliation with the Kalapuya tribe, whose members, according to the Oregon Historical Society, settled across the Willamette Valley and the surrounding areas 8,000 years ago.
While Marcola’s high school bears a tribe’s name - Mohawk - the Mohawk Tribe does not have Oregon ties. The Saint Regis Mohawk tribe originated in New York, according to a list of federally recognized tribes compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Nonetheless, the Marcola community long has identified with the Mohawk name.
Mohawk High is named after the Mohawk River, a tributary of the McKenzie River. The Mohawk River and the surrounding Mohawk Valley received their names in 1847 when settler Jacob Spores said the valley reminded him of the Mohawk River in his home state of New York, according to the Oregon Historical Society.
The new state rules make it complex for schools to win exemptions to keep their tribal mascots.
For example, the state education board’s rules for mascots with no obvious affiliation to an Oregon tribe are somewhat unclear.
The Jan. 21 rule summary states that a public school can enter into a written agreement with a Native American tribe that declares that the mascot “represents, is significant to or associated with the tribe” that the school is trying to enter an agreement with.
It also states that Oregon tribes cannot approve a mascot that’s from a tribe outside of Oregon.
Cindy Hunt, the state education department’s government and legal affairs manager, acknowledged Marcola’s case is complicated.
“So it’s possible that they (Marcola) may be able to keep a Native American mascot, but it may not be the Mohawk Indians,” Hunt said. “There would be some questions raised if it were an image from outside of Oregon.”
Work toward a deal
Mohawk is one of two high schools in Lane County with a Native American mascot. The other is Oakridge, home of the Warriors. The state board in 2012 deemed that Warriors - unlike Indians, Chiefs, Braves and other such names - was an acceptable name, as long as it was not illustrated by an image of an Indian. The Oakridge Warriors’ Facebook page and the Oakridge High School website, however, do include an image of an American Indian chief in headdress.
District Superintendent Donald Kordosky confirmed the Warriors still have the same name and mascot.
Kordosky said that the first time the state ruled public schools must do away with NativeAmerican mascots, the community was thoroughly upset.
“The first time it came out, it was close to panic in the community,” Kordosky said.
Kordosky said the most recent ruling is a relief.
“We’re excited to be working with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde,” Kordosky said. “And so happy that it looks like we’ll be able to keep our tradition. The Warriors mascot is truly cherished in Oakridge.”
The district hopes to have an agreement worked out with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde by June, Kordosky said.
Over the years, state officials have twisted and turned in various ways to address the use of American Indian-inspired mascots.
When the state board addressed the issue in 2012, it noted that virtually all the schools and communities associated with the mascots felt they were honoring Native Americans. Some Oregon tribal members also view the mascots as allowing Native Americans to have a presence in communities, and saw the symbols as a catalyst for discussions between tribes and public schools, the state board acknowledged.
But a report issued by then-state schools Superintendent Susan Castillo in 2012 cited research that found “racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals” are “particularly harmful to the social identity, development and self-esteem of American Indian young people.”
Additionally, using Native Americans as mascots “promoted discrimination, pupil harassment and stereotyping,” the report said.
After a hearing with extensive public testimony, the board adopted the resolution prohibiting public schools from using Native American mascots after July 1, 2017; schools that fail to comply would risk losing state funding. The state provides the bulk of funding for school districts statewide.
A bill passed by the Legislature in 2013, which would have allowed some schools to keep their Native American mascots, was vetoed by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber. In 2014, the Legislature came back with Senate Bill 1509, intended as a compromise between Kitzhaber and opponents of the mascot ban, that would allow school boards and tribes to work together to keep the mascots.
The bill also directed the state Board of Education to come up with rules for such agreements. Last May, after creating work groups to advise them on the proposed rules, the state board instead voted unanimously not to approve any such amendment allowing schools to seek mascot permission from tribes.
With that vote, the state board essentially stuck with its original 2012 rule and its 2017 deadline for schools to change their mascots. That changed in January, however, when the state board changed its mind and set down new rules that would allow such mascot agreements.
Additionally, schools must get the agreement approved by tribes and the state by Jan. 1, 2017, or face losing partial or all state funding, state documents show.
ODE spokeswoman Meg Koch said input from the community and tribe members influenced the board’s latest rule reversal.
“Since the last vote on this topic, the board received more public comments, and individual board members met with representatives of the Siletz and Grand Ronde tribes,” Koch said in an email. “While it is difficult to know why individual board members changed their vote, these comments and meetings influenced the ultimate decision of the board.”
Additionally, state board documents show the board found that proponents of the 2014 legislation believe Oregon tribes should have more of an active role in the decision on whether public schools should be allowed to use Native American mascots.
Changes are expensive
Costs associated with doing away with a mascot can be expensive.
Roseburg High School changed its mascot image from an Indian’s profile to a feather, but kept the Indian nickname. A cost estimate presented to the Roseburg School Board in 2007 indicated that it would run nearly $350,000 to change its logo on all district property and materials.
Some specific costs identified by other districts include resurfacing gyms ($30,000 to $40,000); replacement of school uniforms ($60 to $150 each); and the redesign of a school logo (up to $20,000).
In Marcola, Watkins said the district has not attempted to estimate the cost involved in changing its mascot name. Those costs, however, most likely would involve changing a huge logo on the high school’s gym floor.
Watkins, who’s in his second year as superintendent, said the state education department’s initial ruling in 2012 to completely do away with such mascots caused a fair amount of contention within the Marcola community.
“I’ve been told that the community did not react well to that,” Watkins said. “They were not happy at all. The school mascot has been a big part of the community for a long, long time, and a lot of people here are proud of that.”
Watkins said the district has not selected a replacement mascot should it need to give up the Indians imagery and name, but it is prepared to do so if necessary. “If we were going to have to change it, we would try and make it a very positive thing,” he said.
Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com
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