Oregon Schools Fight to Keep Controversial Native American Mascots

The Rogue River School District in Oregon hopes working with a local tribe will allow its high school to keep its Native American mascot.

Several high schools in Oregon are fighting to keep their Native American mascots as a deadline looms to change them.

In 2012, the Oregon State Board of Education passed a rule prohibiting the use of Native American mascots, symbols, and monikers at its public schools, and ordered that schools using such language and imagery has until July 1, 2017 to retire them. The board members at the time said they relied heavily on empirical evidence on the psychological impacts Native American mascots have on the mental health of youths.

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“The concept of Native American mascots being hurtful and racist was not new to me,” board member Serilda Summers-McGee said when the rule passed. “However the testimony we received from students, members of the Native American community, and researchers regarding the impact of Native American mascots on student learning and self esteem was extremely illuminating.”

Now, seven of the fourteen schools required to change their school mascot are allegedly working with local tribes to barter a deal, according to reports. Administrators at the schools hope that establishing a Native American curriculum, working in tandem with the tribes, will allow them to keep their school mascot.

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Rogue River Jr./Sr. High School, home of the Chieftains, is one of seven schools fighting to keep theirs. Paul Young, superintendent of Rogue River School District, told NBC-Oregon affiliate KOBI5.com, that they are working with the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians to create lessons on Native Americans for their students.

One alumna said she is concerned that if the Chieftains mascot is dropped and replaced it will strip the essence of Rogue River.

“I think if they took away the Chieftain mascot, they’d be taking away the heart and soul of the school,” Cheryl Martin Sund told KOBI5.com. Sund said her father was related to Chief Joseph, a revered elder and leader of the Nez Perce, and added that the mascot represents Native Americans as “proud, and strong, and brave.”

Native American mascots used by other schools in the state include the Molalla High School Indians, Banks High Braves, and more than a dozen schools with the "Warriors" mascot.