DENVER — A North Dakota-based organization representing Native Americans sued Colorado this week for a measure banning American Indian school mascots which was passed last year amid a nationwide push for racial justice following George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.
The lawsuit by the nonprofit Native American Guardian’s Association was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, naming Gov. Jared Polis, Attorney General Phil Weiser and Kathryn Redhorse, the executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. The firm is representing a John Doe, Jane Doe and three other Colorado residents who cite Native American heritage in the lawsuit.
The organization’s lawsuit argues that the Colorado law is unconstitutional and “unlawfully enacts state-sanctioned race discrimination” against the Native American residents the association is representing.
The Colorado measure, signed into law in June, fines public schools, colleges and universities $25,000 monthly for their use of American Indian-themed mascots after June 1, 2022. The law does not apply to schools on tribal lands and also allows exceptions for schools that had existing agreements with tribes.
The suit argues that the complete erasure of Native American imagery is not beneficial and that the use of positive and respectful Native American symbols and mascots in schools honors the group, helps neutralize offensive stereotypes and teaches the public about Native American history. The lawsuit also states that the use of positive Native American symbolism is a form of “reappropriation” or a way to “reclaim names and images that were once directed at them as insults in order to turn them outward as badges of pride.”
According to the lawsuit, John and Jane Doe, who are of Cherokee and Chippewa descent, attend Yuma High School in northeast Colorado which is home of the “Yuma Indians.” The two want their school to continue honoring their cultures and heritage because as the suit alleges, they “would suffer a hostile environment” if the Native mascots were banned.
The Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs has identified more than 20 schools across the state for violating the law by using terms such as Savages, Indians and Warriors in their mascot’s name.
Spokespeople for Polis and Weiser said they would not comment because the lawsuit is ongoing.
An email sent Thursday to the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs for comment on the lawsuit was not immediately returned.
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