Approximately 30 people gathered in front of Roseburg High School on Wednesday afternoon in a protest to retire the mascot, which was a topic of discussion at the school board meeting later that evening.
“I’m Karuk, not a mascot,” “Honor by listening,” “There’s no honor in racism,” and “Alumni for change” were just a few of the signs people displayed outside, as supporters burned sage and listened to music.
Jessica Bascom, a member of the Klamath Tribe who graduated from Roseburg High School in 2002, started an online petition to change the mascot this summer and helped organize Wednesday’s protest.
“The sun is shining, my friends and family are here. I can feel the Creator’s strength,” she said at the protest.
Once inside, her positivity turned into criticism for the Roseburg Public Schools’ board of directors which did not make a decision on the mascot.
“My petition currently has 6,826 signatures. Apparently hearing from me and my 6,825 friends and allies was not enough to convince you that you needed to retire your Indian mascot,” Bascom said. “You, instead decided to create an online form for people to submit to you how they feel about the mascot. Many white Roseburg residents have been vocal about wanting to keep the Indian mascot. They spent their afternoons in the abandoned Kmart parking lot this last week claiming an identity and a heritage that is not theirs to claim.”
Jennifer Singleton was one of the people who spent time gathering support to keep the mascot. She said she spent 27 hours in the Kmart parking lot and received signatures from 729 people in support of the current mascot.
“Our children that attend your school are eighth-generation Roseburg residents,” Singleton said at Wednesday’s meeting. “Don’t tell me my kids don’t matter. They do. We are a family and we are proud members of this community. I stand up here for my family today because we are proud to be Roseburg Indians.”
Bascom called statements such as those cultural appropriations. Many of the students who are attending the school are not indigenous, Indians, or members of an actual tribe, even though some have referred to their school, class or team as “The Tribe.”
Roseburg Public Schools made an online form available to the community between Feb. 15 and 22, during that same period people were also invited to write to the district office. The school district received feedback from more than 2,100 people regarding the possible retirement of the high school mascot — more than 1,480 responses were received through the online form and an additional 680 letters were received.
Partially because of the large number of responses, school board members decided that more time is needed to go through the responses before making a decision. The next meeting is scheduled for March 17.
Board chair Rebecca Larson started the meeting by thanking people for their responses. Superintendent Jared Cordon said later in the meeting that he was honored to live in a community that cared deeply about its schools.
Chriset Palenshus, a Roseburg resident who has been a vocal advocate of getting rid of the mascot, expressed her displeasure with the board that there would be no vote on the mascot Wednesday.
“I believe the fact that those of us that still exist here, and are asking you not to use the mascot, our voices should have higher relevance than settlers who came here and took the land, and forcibly removed the people that were already here,” Palenshus said. “There’s some entitlement with white settlers here. They believe that they can just take, take and extract. Taking the land, taking the name and not having any respect for the wishes of those that are from here.”
She ended her speech by giving them one last suggestion, “You could keep the RHS and have it be more accurate by calling it Racist High School.”
School board member Micki Hall said: “For anyone who has read through all the comments will probably first surmise that this is an issue for which the board is in a position much like the old adage, ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ However, after reading the research and reading the comments and letters, and living through this issue for 30-plus years, this is not difficult for me as a school board member that makes education decisions that affect all stakeholders, no matter what the issue.”
Hall went on to describe the issues with racism, discrimination and harm she witnessed in her years of teaching at Roseburg High School, before giving her opinion on the matter.
“Retiring the mascot will not end that struggle,” she said. “In the midst of that struggle, however, this is what I would like to share: This is not about the mascot being offensive. This is not about a woke crowd pushing the issue. This is not about political correctness. This is not about a board, made up of 42% of their members that have never taken this issue up, unwilling to listen or to act. This is not about erasing one’s history, or erasing the history of the RHS Indian or preventing students who matriculated under the Indian mascot from using it, or eradicating Indians or about one person starting this issue all over again.
“It is about aligning our curriculum, our practices and our values with the district-wide strategic plan. It is about compatibility with the all students belong policy our board of directors has envisioned. It is about changing to meet a world in which all students are respectfully and equitably taught. It is about finding ways to meet the needs of all communities within our district. And it is about listening, learning and reflecting on our decisions we make in our classrooms, in our buildings and in our board rooms and doing it respectfully. With the retiring of the mascot, we may not try to change people’s minds and opinions about what they think is racist or discriminatory. That’s not our charge as board members. Our charge is to adopt policies and processes that educate our youth to be lifelong learners, self-reflective adults, and contributing members of any community. And in doing so, we must asked how every action we take reflects our plan to do just that. Educate our children, equitably and justly.”
She added there’s “more than ample evidence” to confirm that mascots contribute to harmful stereotypes and misconceptions about Native American cultures and practices.
In total there were 10 people who addressed the school board about the mascot, with eight speaking in favor of retiring the mascot and two in favor of keeping the mascot.