'I think it's more of a respectful thing'

ROSEBURG, Ore. -- The Oregon State Board of Education is re-examining an issue that could cost the Roseburg School District thousands of dollars.

Students who go to Roseburg High School are known as the Indians, but that could soon change.

The state education board will be discussing school mascots with Native American names this week. That includes the Roseburg Indians, whose logo is a feather.

The district superintendent Larry Parsons, believes changing the mascot would be a hard sell. "We've had 80-90 years of being the Roseburg Indians, and to ask this community to stop being the Roseburg Indians, I think it borders on being cruel."

RHS is one of 16 schools in the state with mascots that could be in jeopardy, including the North Douglas Warriors and Reedsport braves in Douglas County.

Susan Ferris, spokesperson for the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians says the school and the tribe have a good relationship and a mutual respect.

Oregon Department of Education Communication Director Christine Miles, says that the board is looking at the issue because of new research from the American Sociological Association, that shows the use of Native American images as mascots is, "not healthy for children."

Students at Roseburg High told KPIC News on Tuesday that they didn't see anything wrong with the Indian title. "I don't see it as being culturally insensitive," said Sarah Burdett, a senior at the school. "I actually see it as kind of nice because we're representing the Umpqua Indians, that have been around for a long time. If anything, I think it's more of a respectful thing."

There is also the matter of cost: Uniforms, logos throughout school buildings and signs would all have to be changed. This, while school districts already burdened financially would have to foot the bill.

At a time when schools are struggling to make ends meet, Parsons says a mascot change could be an incredibly costly move. "If we were to be forced to eliminate the Indians from our name at the high school, we don't know how much money it would cost, but it could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Miles says they will decide at Thursday's meeting in Salem whether or not to force a change for the schools' mascots.

Larry Parsons says he will be there, hoping to convince the board to let the school remain the home of the Indians.

The following is the topic summary from Thursday's agenda for the meeting:

ISSUE BEFORE THE BOARD: Discussion on the use of Native American mascots and logos by all schools which receives state funding in Oregon.


On December 7, 2006, Che Butler, Siletz Tribal member and senior at Taft High School, and Luhui Whitebear, Coastal Band Chumash Tribal member, gave a presentation on the use of Native American mascots by Oregon public schools before the State Board of Education. In 2007, the Superintendent of Public Instruction Advisory Committee on Native American Mascots asserted the dignity of every human person and recognized the importance of respecting the cultures and sacred symbols of all Peoples. They recognized the harmful impacts of racial stereotyping of sports mascots in the social identity development and self-esteem of Native American young people. The advisory group publically opposed stereotypes, policies and practices that demeaned and degraded people.

As the Native American Mascot Advisory Committee for the Oregon Superintendent of Instruction, they recommended the following actions:

Eliminate the use of Native American Mascots and logos by all schools receiving state funding in Oregon.

Educate all students about Native American stereotyping and its negative effects.

Use culturally accurate education, materials, curriculum and resources.

They recommended that the Superintendent of Public Instruction propose an administrative rule to the State Board of Education that would mandate a ban on the use of all Native American names, mascots and logos by Oregon Schools that received public funding. In complying with this mandate, they recommended that the school district's use a public involvement process in choosing their new mascot and logo. This recommendation enables the State Board of Education to be in compliance with ORS 326.051(1)(e) which charges the State Board of Education to ensure discrimination practices do not occur in school programs or interscholastic activities. Further clarification of the Boards responsibilities are defined in ORS 659.850 (2) which states that a person may not be subjected to discrimination in any public school or interschool activity. The prohibition of discrimination is additionally stated in OAR 581-021-0045. Subsection (1) this rule says "Discrimination" means any act that unreasonably differentiates treatment, intended or unintended, or any act that is fair in form but discriminatory in operation, either of which is based on age, disability, national origin, race, color, marital status, religion, sex or sexual orientation. ORS and OAR are clear on the prohibition of discrimination. Research findings link the use of Native American symbols as mascots, logos and team names and the detrimental effect on the achievement, education, self-concept, and self-esteem of Native American students and send an improper message to everyone of the true meaning and spirit of being of American Indian heritage. That being said, the school district obligations stated in OAR 581-022-0606 cannot be ignored. This OAR requires School districts to have Continuous Improvement Plans which provides safe educational environment to promote student achievement.

The recommendation to ban the use of all Native American names, mascots and logos by Oregon Schools that received public funding was broadly reported in the media. The Superintendent also sought input from tribal leaders on the recommendation. Some schools have made progress in relation to the recommendations and some have not.

The perpetuation of derogatory images of any one individual or group leads to misinformation and contributes to a hostile learning environment. The elimination of Native American mascots can lead to the end of culturally abusive behavior and this piece of institutionalized racism towards Native American people. The Advisory Committees recommended action will benefit all students and supports the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The United States Commission on Civil Rights on April 13, 2001 issued the following statement:

"The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights calls for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native schools. The Commission deeply respects the right of all Americans to freedom of expression under the First Amendment and in no way would attempt to prescribe how people can express themselves. However, the Commission believes that the use of Native American images and nicknames in schools is insensitive and should be avoided. In addition, some Native American and civil rights advocates maintain that these mascots may violate anti-discrimination laws."

The use of Native American names, images and symbols are based upon stereotypical qualities or traits often attributed to ethnic groups in the past. While originally justified as "honoring" Native Americans, Native Americans feel marginalized instead. In a published article, Dr. Cornel Pewewardy asserts the following:

"As long as such negative mascots and logos remain within the arena of school activities, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children are learning to tolerate racism in schools. Finally, I challenge educators to provide the intellectual leadership that will teach a critical perspective and illuminate the cultural violence associated with Indian mascots used in schools. Inaction in the face of racism is racism. As culturally responsive educators, we must understand that 'enslaved minds cannot teach liberation.' That's why educators can't ignore Indian mascots.

All students, without exception, have the right to an educational environment that is free from any form of harassment or distortion of Native American people. The use of Native American mascots can prevent the achievement of this goal.

STAFF RECOMMENDATION: Adopt a resolution and administrative rule that eliminates the use of Native American mascots and logos by all schools that receive state funding.