Three New Bills in Oregon Legislature Seek to Undermine Native American Mascots Ban

A story about legislation introduced in Oregon to overturn the state's 2012 ban on schools using Native mascots.

Three new bills recently introduced into the Oregon state legislature seek to undermine the state school board's ban on Native American mascots by allowing schools to avoid financial penalities if they keep their mascots and by codifying into law that the mascots are not discriminatory.

“I don’t understand why using the name of a group is offensive, especially if it’s referring to a good attribute, and if it is offensive, there needs to be a way to deal with it without the state telling local communities what to do,” said state Senator Betsy Close (R – Albany), who along with Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg) sponsored one of two Senate bills that would protect schools using Native mascots from losing any state or federal funding.

Close said she introduced the bill after being contacted by a Lane County commissioner, who feared the Lebanon High School Warriors would lose their mascot even though local tribes had no problem with it. House Bill 3397, which boasts 15 Republican sponsors, would make it law that use of Native American mascots would not be acts of discrimination, as the language of the ban argues.

The Lebanon High School Warriors logo, at center court.

The ban requires the state’s 15 schools with Native American mascots to replace them by July 2017 or possibly lose state funding, though state officials said that would only be a last resort measure. Schools can keep the nickname Warriors as long as they discard any Native imagery.

The ban was passed in May 2012 after three contentious hearings. Although there was hardly a consensus from commenters, the board decided 5-1 to pass the ban because there was too much anecdotal and empirical evidence that mascots harmed the mental well-being of American Indian students.

Two Oregon tribal councils representing the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians protested the ban, saying they believed mascots can be positive representations of Native people and that the ban violated their sovereignty. A Siletz resolution also declared that while mascots should still be allowed, they should also be complemented by rigorous studies on Native culture.

Eugene resident Naomi Strawser, Tlingit, testified at one of the May 2012 hearings, and noted that Native people belonging to many tribes from throughout the country live in Oregon for various reasons, including historical removal and relocation policies.

“I wouldn’t allow my children to attend a school where they constantly have to fight for their cultural identity in a place they’re supposed to feel safe enough to learn,” said Strawser, who has a 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. “Indian mascots are a projection of white fantasies.”

Currently, none of the bills have been put up to a vote, and Close said the bills will have to be read by April 8 or they will be considered dead. 

You can watch a video about the Lebanon High School's use of the Native mascot and name Warriors by clicking here.

For a report by the Associated Press on the Oregon ban on Native mascots, watch: