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April 16, 2013
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Editorial: Board of Education shouldn't block consensus between schools and tribes

Imagine a potential problem is handled and the solution appears to be working smoothly. Then someone comes along and says it isn’t enough. Frustrating, yes?

For example, Roseburg School District officials more than 10 years ago thought they had done their due diligence to address any possible concerns about the Roseburg High School Indian mascot.

Depictions of Native Americans were replaced with a single feather logo. The Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe was consulted to determine whether its members found “Indians” offensive as a school mascot. (They didn’t.) Most alumni who expressed an opinion about the topic spoke of being proud of being Roseburg Indians.

The efforts seemed to be effective as a pre-emptive strike against accusations of cultural stereotyping. The precautions looked less adequate in May, after the Oregon State Board of Education abolished Native American mascots from schools.

But perhaps, after all, the district’s foresight will prove to be useful. Now that a bill offering an alternative to the ban has passed the state Senate, Roseburg High will be among 15 Oregon high schools, three of them in Douglas County, that may not be forced to the considerable expense of changing mascots in gyms, on buildings, at sports fields, on signs and on stationery and other office supplies.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, who describes himself as a proud Roseburg Indian. If passed by the House, the bill would allow schools to keep their Native American mascots if they gain approval by the nearest tribes.

That said, Roseburg school officials aren’t expecting to rely on institutional memories of conversations with the Cow Creek tribe. Superintendent Larry Parsons said he expected district representatives would sit down with tribal members and formalize an agreement to be sure the tribe supports RHS’ use of the name Indian. An agreement seems likely, given that Cow Creek spokeswoman Susan Ferris said last week that many within the tribe regard the name as complimentary.

Perhaps, as the Board of Education maintains, there are areas in the state where use of a Native American mascot promotes discrimination, harassment and stereotyping. In such places it would be appropriate to change mascots.

But to say that buy-in from local tribes is meaningless, because in many cases schools couldn’t identify a local tribe, seems to be imagining ill feeling where it doesn’t exist. If tribal members are in accord with nearby schools, why create adversity? If the North Douglas Warriors or Reedsport Braves or any other school is unclear about what tribes to contact, legislators can make provisions for that.

And to suggest, as the Board of Education has, that a dominate white culture would bully tribes into approving Native American mascots is to overlook the fact that most Oregon tribes appear very able to advocate for themselves, as demonstrated by the rise of tribal casino lobbying. To imply that tribes are unable to stand up for themselves appears a larger insult.

We think legislation that promotes communication between tribes and schools makes more sense than an outright ban that assumes people aren’t capable of coming to consensus. We therefore urge the House to follow the Senate’s lead and allow Native American mascots with tribal approval.

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The News-Review Updated Apr 16, 2013 12:29PM Published Apr 16, 2013 03:11PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.