Gov. John Kitzhaber signed legislation Thursday to allow Oregon public schools to retain American Indian-themed mascots as long as they have the permission of a tribe.
Roseburg High School could keep its Indians mascot, pending an agreement between the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe and the Oregon Board of Education.
A similar measure was vetoed by the governor last year. Lawmakers slightly revised the measure this year.
It now requires that the state Board of Education consult with federally recognized tribes in Oregon to write guidelines for the agreements between schools and tribes over mascots and their use. The agreements are also subject to the board’s approval.
Roseburg Sen. Jeff Kruse, who fought to keep Native American mascots in schools, said today he “felt great” about the governor’s signature and moving forward with the bill.
“I think we end up at the same point. We’re just going to have to go through more process to get there,” Kruse said. “I have every confidence that we will get to the conclusion we want in Roseburg and that the nine recognized tribes want. It’s just a matter of having to jump through the hoops and spend the time.”
Cow Creek Umpqua spokeswoman Susan Ferris said today the tribe would likely go along with an agreement to keep the mascot.
“I almost think that it’s just been such a good friendship for so long, I don’t see this as any kind of difficulty,” she said.
She declined to further speculate about an agreement.
In a joint statement on Feb. 27, the tribe and the school district said they imagine a collaborative relationship between the two will remain.
“Until the rule making process is over, how communities should implement this law is undetermined. There is no reason, however, Roseburg Public Schools and the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe’s good and cooperative relationship of many decades won’t continue,” it stated.
The state Board of Education in 2012 mandated that 15 high schools in Oregon and an unknown number of elementary and middle schools retire their American Indian mascots by 2017 or risk losing state funding. The order affected three Douglas County high schools — the Roseburg Indians, North Douglas Warriors and Reedsport Braves.
Kitzhaber said in his veto message last year that he wanted the state to follow the example set by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which has led to schools giving up generic Native American nicknames, such as Indians, but keeping mascots related to particular tribes, such as the Seminoles or Chippewas.
Kruse, a Republican, said the NCAA standards don’t fit the situation.
“Florida State is kind of a bigger critter than Roseburg High School,” he said.
Roseburg schools Superintendent Larry Parsons said today he was eager to read the bill but was pleased with the outcome.
“It’s certainly a big sense of relief for us,” he said.
He was optimistic that the Roseburg School District can work with the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe to keep the Indians nickname.
“I’m confident that whatever it looks like, with our relationship being as good as it is with the local tribe, we’re going to be able to work through it,” he said. “We don’t want to disrespect the tribe or be anything but respectful to them.”
The Roseburg School District has received support in the past from the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe for keeping Indians as the high school’s nickname.
Parsons said he was still anxious about the State Board of Education working with tribes to write the policy.
“You don’t know what’s going to be in there. That’s my concern,” he said. “We’re confident we’ve done everything we can do, but until it happens, we’re always a little worried.”
Kruse said he plans to meet with the Cow Creek tribe and Roseburg School Board in the coming weeks to discuss the bill.
He described the governor’s signature as “more of a face-saving move than anything.”
• You can reach reporter Betsy Swanback at 541-957-4208 or email@example.com.