Roseburg Public Schools hopes to sit down with representatives of the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians to discuss the memorandum that allows for the high school’s continued use of the Indians mascot.
The school district and the tribe came to an agreement in March 2017, with the stipulation that the agreement be reviewed every three years.
“There has been no discussion, that I know of, that’s happened since 2017,” School Board Director Micki Hall said. “It only calls for it to be reviewed every three years and it doesn’t give any direction as to what to review or how to review it. I think it’s just a matter of the tribe representatives coming together with some representatives of the school board to talk about the agreement.”
The discussion between the two parties will likely take place in a policy committee meeting, which will be open to the public. The meeting would report back to the board on how that meeting went and if it’s necessary to take further actions.
Director Charles Lee said he was “anticipating a spirited discussion” during that committee meeting. Lee, Hall and board chair Rebecca Larson are the members of the policy committee.
Director Howard Johnson urged the board to give this serious thought and consideration.
“There’s a big movement in the United States to remove any of the Native American mascots,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we should erase their history, we should embrace it. But I think there’s a way we can go about it, that’s mutually beneficial for both groups and I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet.”
In recent months, the discussion of changing names was brought to the attention of school leaders with an online petition to change the name of the Roseburg High School mascot, Indians, and a request from community members to rename Joseph Lane Middle School.
The current policy on naming facilities requires unanimous board approval. Members of the policy committee recommended adding the naming of school mascots to the existing “naming facilities” policy.
Hall said during a Sept. 18 policy committee meeting that this would still be appropriate as it “puts the burden of responsibility back on the board,” according to minutes from the meeting.
“With regards to this discussion, while decisions will factor in the historical significance, the effect on the learning environment and community perception, ultimately it falls back to the strategic plan and the necessity to refer to it when decisions are made,” the minutes of the policy committee meeting read.
Jessica Bascom is a Roseburg High School graduate and enrolled member of the Klamath Tribe who started the online petition to change the mascot name.
“Native mascots are a form of erasure for Indigenous people,” Bascom wrote in her petition. “If we don’t exist in a modern context and remain as mascots then it is easier for the majority culture to ignore our very existence. It’s the modern form of discrimination against natives because it aids in our invisibility to society.”
During Wednesday’s school board meeting, Bascom’s efforts were praised by Emily Cable, a 2002 Roseburg High School graduate, who spoke in favor of changing the mascot name.
“In addition to harming native students, which frankly should be reason enough to reconsider the mascot, the use of racist mascots and stereotypes is bad for all students,” she said. She then cited information from the American Psychological Association which advocates for the abolishment of native mascots.
Annie Reichelt, who graduated from Roseburg High School in 1997 and now teaches in the Portland area, said she had seen the impact the mascot had on students outside of the area.
“I see my student-athletes who are heading down to Roseburg to play a game and I can see a little bit of tension with my students of color, with my Black, indigenous and students of color, and also with the white students,” Reichelt said. “They’re just a little bit uncomfortable coming to Roseburg to play, and it makes me sad.”
Angela Walker asked the school board to take it seriously because of the impact of the mascot.
“I just really feel like this could be a great year for you guys to just set the record straight and show that Roseburg is an awesome place to live and be and just be inclusive to all students,” Walker said. She added that although the school district has an agreement with the local tribe, there are more than 500 federally recognized tribes that were not part of that agreement.
Walker is a Native American who was born and raised in Roseburg but graduated from Glide High School.
“The majority of native people do find it offensive to still be a mascot,” she said. “I think representation is really important, especially for a student and I can’t imagine having to go to a school where the mascot is my people. I feel like that would be really hard.”
Green Elementary School teacher Jamie Malkowski said she was glad to see the board bringing the issue forward and hoped it would continue its discussions.
“I know it’s a hot topic in Douglas County, in the community,” she said. “There’s a lot of feelings both ways about it and I’m just hoping that we could just revisit the topic and give it the time that I think it deserves to hear different points of view that may be coming to light right now.”
Walker reiterated that not only is this a social issue, it’s also a personal one for her.
“It is really important to me, my family,” Walker said. “I’m actually a foster mom of two native kids from different tribes and I want them to grow up where they have positive representation, that isn’t a stereotype, that isn’t stuck in the past, and that doesn’t feel like it is erasing culture.”
Roseburg High School has been using the Indians name, but its logo was changed to a feather in the early 2000s. Prior to this, the school did have a caricature of a Native American, which evolved numerous times in the school’s history.
Following a meeting on Sept. 17, the Oregon State Board of Education announced it will bring forward the All Students Belong initiative during the 2021 Legislative Session.
The initiative will ban the Confederate Flag, swastikas, nooses and other symbols of hatred from school grounds and establish requirements for anti-bias incidents at a district level. The initiative does not have language on native names in the initiative, but the state did try to ban native mascots in 2012.
Schools had until 2017 to change the mascot or come to an agreement with their local tribe. Roseburg opted for the latter. Reedsport and North Douglas changed their mascots in 2017 to comply with the regulations.
Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said the new initiative was brought forward by students.
“Our students called us out and into action,” he said. “Students must feel like they are safe and belong in their own schools if they are to learn, work and grow to their fullest potential. It is our responsibility to make sure that all of our school communities feel safe and welcomed, and we support youth to set a moral standard.”
Republican Rep. Cheri Helt of Bend, students, the State Board of Education, Democratic Rep. Caddy McKeown of Coos Bay and Republican Rep. David Brock Smith of Port Orford all expressed their support of the initiative.
The images would still be allowed to be shown if they are part of the teaching curriculum.
According to Helt’s office, this is the first initiative of its kind, to set rules within the education curriculum that would ban symbols of hatred from Oregon school grounds.
School districts were asked to have policies in place by Jan. 1, 2021, and a permanent rule will be introduced in a few months.
“I look forward to bringing forward legislation in the 2021 Legislative Session to ban these symbols of hatred and codify it into Oregon Law,” Helt said.