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Oregon School District Latest To Jettison Native American Mascot, Imagery

The Warrenton-Hammond School Board on the northwest Oregon Coast voted unanimously Tuesday night to remove Native American symbolism from its school mascots. The Warrenton Grade School Braves will get a name change and the high school’s "Warriors" logo will be redesigned.

The small coastal district is among the first to come into line with a new state policy. Oregon school districts have until July 1, 2017 to do away with Native American mascots and team names by order of the state Board of Education. The Board determined that nicknames such as Braves, Indians and Chieftains can be offensive and harm the learning environment for native students.

Oregon school districts have the option to seek the approval of a nearby tribe to keep a Native American-themed team name, but Warrenton Superintendent Mark Jeffery recommended against that course.

“This isn’t a settled issue,” Jeffery said. “I don’t want to put the district in a position where on short notice somewhere down the road we’re just going to have to change again. This is I think a good time for us to do it and I think it is the right thing to do.”

The Warrenton-Hammond School District at the mouth of the Columbia River currently enrolls about 980 students.

Jeffery projected “minimal” cost to phase out of the grade school Braves mascot and remove Native American connotations from the high school Warriors identity. At Tuesday’s board meeting, school leaders said they saw the “writing on the wall” for Native American mascots around five years ago. Inappropriate caricatures were painted over during regular maintenance and the emblem of a Plains Indian chief in headdress was discontinued on school apparel.

Jeffery said the grade school would share the high school’s Warriors nickname to replace its Braves mascot. The decision to retire the Braves mascot and remove a lance and feather from the Warriors logo attracted little controversy in the community. Before the final vote, no students or alumni in the audience spoke out. A smattering of speakers commented at a prior board meeting.

Jeffery predicted the most “problematic” remaining issue might be the ten-foot tall statue of an American Indian wielding a tomahawk on the high school’s front lawn. The superintendent said he expects the statue to be unbolted and removed eventually, but was unsure where it might end up.

About a dozen other Oregon school districts with Native American mascots are negotiating their names' future and, more often than not, getting tribal support with conditions.

Down the coast, the Reedsport School District is having a harder time. Reedport’s teams are named the Braves. This spring, the superintendent approached the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians and learned they objected to continued use of the mascot. But then the executive director of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians wrote to say that tribe was willing to work with the Reedsport district to reach an agreement that would meet the state’s criteria for an exemption.

Reedsport Interim Superintendent Dan Forbess did not return several messages asking how the district would proceed given that one area tribe was supportive and another disliked the Braves mascot.

The state Department of Education identified twelve other Oregon high schools using Braves, Indians, Chieftains, or Warriors as team names. Nearly all of them have reached out to the nearest federally-recognized tribe to open negotiations to preserve their mascots under a process set up by the state board.

“We are pleased with the progress that has been made so far with this issue,” Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde spokesman Justin Martin said Tuesday about the talks the Grand Ronde have had with six Western Oregon school districts.

He said the Grand Ronde tribe may approve the continued use of Native American-themed mascots. An important consideration for tribes is that the agreements include provisions for culturally-appropriate logo design and inclusion of curriculum about Oregon tribes and their governments in the classroom.

“We look forward to continued communications with our districts and we also look forward to better educating our students -- tribal and nontribal alike,” Martin said.

In 2012, the Washington State Board of Education passed a resolution urging school districts to discontinue the use of Native American mascots. Unlike in Oregon, the Washington state directive was nonbinding. The following year the Port Townsend High School Redskins changed to the Redhawks.

Also in 2013, the Teton School District superintendent sought to change the mascot of Teton High School in Driggs, Idaho, from Redskins to something more respectful, but faced strong community resistance and the proposed change was quickly shelved.

Earlier this year, Democratic state representatives in Washington state introduced a bill to forbid the use of "redskins" as a school team name, mascot or nickname by the start of the 2017-18 school year. As it turns out, only one Washington public school currently uses that name: Wellpinit High School on the Spokane Indian Reservation. The proposed legislation exempted reservation schools from the naming rules. The bill never made it out of committee.

These are the dozen other Oregon high schools that face a deadline reach agreement with their local tribes if they wish to keep their Native American mascots. The rules allow public schools to keep using the name Warriors without needing to get an Oregon tribe’s permission as long as the mascot is not combined with Native American imagery.

  • Amity High School Warriors
  • Banks High School Braves
  • Lebanon High School Warriors
  • Mohawk High School Indians (Marcola S.D. north of Eugene)
  • Molalla High School Indians
  • North Douglas High School Warriors
  • Oakridge High School Warriors
  • Philomath High School Warriors
  • Rogue River High School Chieftains
  • Roseburg High School Indians
  • Scappoose High School Indians
  • Siletz Valley School Warriors
Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.