SEATTLE -- For years, Banks High School in Oregon has had its own local twist on the national anthem, signing off with “Land of the free -- and home of the Braves!” That’s been a ra-ra reference to the yellow-and-black warrior with feathers and a mohawk that has always been the school’s mascot.
No more. The Oregon Board of Education, in possibly the most far-reaching regulation of its kind in the country, has voted to ban Native American mascots at schools across Oregon.
The measure will force at least 15 schools across the state to abandon the various chieftains, feathered horsemen and bow-and-arrow-wielding warriors that have adorned basketball backboards, gym floors and lockers for decades or longer. Schools that fail to make the change risk a loss of state funding.
Some districts had complained that the change would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and go against generations of community tradition. But board members in a 5-1 vote Thursday concluded that those concerns were outweighed by the state’s obligation to provide a nondiscriminatory education and to clamp down on stereotypes.
“Unfortunately, for many of our Native American youth, the decision seems to be between being a mascot and being invisible,” board chairwoman Brenda Frank, a member of the Klamath tribes, said near the conclusion of more than eight hours of public testimony over the past few months.
“I do not believe any of our schools with Native American mascots intended to be disrespectful. However, intent is not enough. We need to focus on what the impact is on our kids,” added the state schools superintendent, Susan Castillo.
Oregon officials said their research showed that only Wisconsin has adopted a similar ban, though that state’s regulation, adopted in 2010, is much less stringent: It requires schools to prove that their mascots, if complained about, do not promote discrimination, harassment or stereotyping.
Oregon’s ban prohibits using any names, symbols or images that refer to Native American tribes, customs or traditions as mascots, nicknames or on school letterhead. Names specifically prohibited include “Redskins,” “Savages,” “Indians” and “Braves,” among others.
Schools such as those in Lebanon, Amity and Oakridge that use the name “Warriors” can do so as long as they abandon graphic images of Native Americans associated with the name.
Native American leaders said many in Oregon can remember times in their childhoods when opposing sports fans yelled chants such as “Scalp the Indians!” at sporting events.
“If you were like me and grew up here in Oregon and played opposing these schools that had Indian mascots, there was harm that was done there,” said Se-ah-dom Edmo, an educator at Lewis and Clark College who testified in favor of the ban on behalf of the Oregon Indian Education Assn.
She said in an interview that her father was his school’s mascot in The Dalles, Ore., in the 1950s.
“I think they were intending to honor native folks, but any time that you objectify a person or stereotype a group of people, which is really what the mascots did, it ceases to become a truth about them,” she said. “The broader psychological impacts show lower self-esteem for native students and poor race relations.
The state school board said it received more than 700 written comments on the proposed ban, about 400 of them in favor of it, while many of the others pointed to decades of tradition.
Schools such as the Molalla Indians and the Rogue River Chieftains have said they have positive relations with tribes in their districts and in some cases intend the mascots as tributes. The symbols have become community traditions and changing them at a time of tight public budgets could be expensive, they argued.
“A lot of people just felt it was community tradition and community pride, and they felt that they were honoring Native Americans by having them as a mascot,” state board of education spokeswoman Christine Miles told the Los Angeles Times.
She said several schools expressed concern that the ban could also affect displays of Native American artists or such artifacts as totem poles.
“That’s not the case,” she said. “We’re saying, please continue to embrace our Native American culture -- it’s part of our history -- but to use it as a mascot is not OK.”