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Wisconsin Gov. Walker Takes 'Big Step Backward' With Mascot Bill

Gov. Walker Takes Wisconsin "Big Step Backward" With Mascot Bill
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On Thursday, Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) signed a controversial “mascot” bill making it harder to force public schools to drop tribal, Native nicknames.

The law requires at least 10 percent of a school district board members to sign a complaint which would be reviewed by the Department of Public Instruction, with hearings in front of an administrative law judge. The new law also places the burden on those who file a complaint to prove that a race-based mascot or team name promotes discrimination, pupil harassment or stereotyping. Under the old law, the burden of proof was on the school district.

Many Native groups are outraged.

"[The bill] is an example of institutionalized racism in content and process," Barbara Munson, an Oneida Indian who chairs the Wisconsin Indian Education Association's mascots and logos task force. She also told the Associated Press, "It's a poke in the eye with a sharp stick to all Wisconsin tribes, and it is an act of discrimination leveled directly at our children."

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Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians said in a press release that these mascots do not honor Native people. "I was deeply saddened to hear that Wisconsin Governor Walker signed a misguided bill that protects racist stereotypes reinforced by using Native American names and images as school mascots,” Cladoosby said. “Wisconsin just took a big step backward in the journey toward a more inclusive and respectful society."

The bill, which was proposed by state Republicans, passed the Wisconsin legislature in November, but sat on Walker’s desk for several weeks. It officially became law yesterday despite challenges from state Democrats and many other groups that the law was “racist.”

In a statement, Walker said that he signed the law because he didn’t want to stifle speech by preventing schools from choosing their mascots. He also said that a person's right to speak doesn't end just because what they say is offensive. "Instead of trying to legislate free speech, a better alternative is to educate people about how certain phrases and symbols that are used as nicknames and mascots are offensive to many of our fellow citizens.”

The new law repeals a measure passed by a majority-Democrat legislature in 2010. That law was signed into law by former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle.

The 2010 law was the first of its kind in the United States to set up a process that allowed a single school district resident opposed to a race-based mascot, nickname, logo or team name to file a complaint with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, which would decide whether to take action against the district.