January 27, 2013 | Back to: Opinion

Publishers Notebook:

As I try to better understand Douglas County and what makes it tick, I stumbled across this little flap over the Oregon school mascots.

If I’m understanding this correctly, the state school board — and don’t get me started about the cost-versus-value of multiple layers of school bureaucracy — decided last May to ban Native American mascots in schools across the state. An estimated 15 of Oregon’s public schools use some sort of Native American mascot or nickname and will have until July of 2017 to make the change.

For starters, I would have assumed that the state Board of Education had bigger fish to fry. After all, many public schools are going broke and others are failing to meet basic test score standards. I read where Oregon’s high school students lost ground in writing, math and science testing from 2011 to 2012. Dealing with those issues alone would be a full plate for any school board, which leads me to believe that this particular board lacks purpose.

I was more surprised to learn that most all of Oregon’s Native American tribes saw this as a non-issue. I assume they looked at their own priority lists and didn’t see anything on that list that talked about school mascots. Perhaps they were focused instead on ways to improve the lives of their members and the communities they serve.

Had I seen evidence that these Oregon tribes were offended by the school mascots, I’d be right there supporting them. I’m offended by the Atlanta Braves’ tomahawk chop and I’m about as white as they come. And perhaps it’s time for the Cleveland Indians to make a similar change. Maybe they’d win a game or two.

Most of the debate on this issue has come from the lips of the white man (and woman), who loves to debate sensitivity. We seem to be an awfully sensitive bunch, even when it’s not directed our way. I can’t tell you how many bald jokes I’ve been exposed to and, yes, I’ve heard the one about the bald newspaper publisher who walks into a bar.

Not so sure I wouldn’t be at the school board meeting demanding a change if the Roseburg High School mascot was a “Pale Face,” or “Bald Man With Forked Tongue.”

The mascot issue appears to have been raised by a student who was offended after his school team played the Molalla High Indians, where he saw a student dressed in buckskin and fake feathers performing Native American dance moves.

For starters, I’ve seen how students dance these days and can understand how someone might find all that bumping and grinding offensive. But I’ll take a half-decent Native American dance over all that butt-bumping any day of the week.

The board’s decision struck close to home, since Douglas County is home for the Roseburg High School Indians, Reedsport Braves and North Douglas Warriors. Changing a school mascot that has been part of a school brand for decades isn’t a small matter, which is why local school boards are more than a little concerned.

Then there is pride. The term “Warrior” invokes a vision of strength, or something to be proud of. I doubt that any member of the North Douglas High School Warrior community views that name or mascot in a derogatory way. “We are Warriors and something to be feared!”

The same goes for Braves (except in Atlanta where they use the tomahawk chop to annoy opponents). You’d better fasten your chinstrap if you’re playing against the Braves. Especially if your mascot is, say, a chicken.

What purpose would really be served by forcing the Roseburg Indians to change their mascot and name? The Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe is a source of pride in our community and, again, I’ve seen no evidence where tribal leaders have an issue with the Roseburg Indians. In fact, the tribe has been a significant financial contributor to many high school programs.

It was good to hear our local school board’s decision last week to suspend its legal challenge to the state board decision. The only real winners there are typically lawyers. A better strategy is to work the resolution through the Oregon Legislature and our local representatives — Jeff Kruse and Tim Freeman — have agreed to carry that torch.

With schools struggling to keep the doors open, mascots ought to be the furthest thing from a school board’s collective mind. Might be more beneficial to explore the real value to a state board of education and the need to staff a board in the first place.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or jackerman@nrtoday.com.


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The News-Review Updated Jan 27, 2013 12:04AM Published Jan 27, 2013 12:04AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.