Roseburg grad petitions for new mascot
Jessica Bascom is not proud to be a Roseburg High School Indian. In fact, she said the mascot made her feel sick her stomach.
Bascom, a member of the Klamath Tribe, started an online petition to change the name of the high school mascot.
“It’s not a matter of me being ‘sensitive’ or ‘offended,’” Bascom said. “There’s real scientific data that shows this is harmful to natives, especially native youth. The data shows that the use of native mascots is related to lower self-esteem, greater anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation. This needs to be taken seriously.”
Roseburg High School Principal Jill Weber said the school district is taking steps to review the mascot as well as other names and mascots in the district.
“We recognize that this issue continues to evolve, and we are committed to ensuring that our school and district are safe and inclusive environments for all of our students,” Weber said.
Roseburg Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cordon said in a previous conversation that members in the community had reached out to reconsider the name of Joseph Lane Middle School, which is named for the first governor of Oregon Territory who was a defender of slavery and won support from his constituents thanks to his “blunt dealings with Native Americans,” according to The Oregon Encyclopedia.
“I have had several conversations with community members in recent weeks and am taking all the feedback to heart,” Weber said.
HISTORY OF THE MASCOT
This isn’t the first time the mascot has been under review at Roseburg High School.
“In the early 2000s, we went through an extensive process and worked closely with the local tribe to ensure our community supported our mascot and that it served as a symbol of honor and respect,” Weber said. “During that time, we implemented the image of the feather for the RHS mascot.”
The school district went through another process between 2012 and 2017 to meet requirements set by the state board of education.
When Roseburg High School installed new turf in the summer of 2018 a decision was made to have both end zones say “Roseburg” instead of using a mascot or the word “Indians.”
“Yes, it’s true that Roseburg has made some changes since I graduated,” Bascom said. “Honestly though, with them still being called the ‘Roseburg Indians’ I feel like they’re trying to fly under the radar and get away with holding onto a mascot that is still racist. Yes, the visual representation is now a feather, but no one is cheering for the Roseburg feathers. They’re still the Roseburg Indians.”
Most of the Roseburg High School athletic teams have uniforms that do not display the mascot name, but rather the name of the school or the feather logo.
When the Oregon State Board of Education passed a law in 2012 that all native mascots needed to be removed from public schools, Roseburg’s was on the list of 15 schools that needed to change its mascot.
Of the 15 schools, three changed both their logo and mascot, eight changed the logo and four didn’t change anything.
Roseburg High School was able to reach an agreement with the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians to continue using the mascot and didn’t make any changes to the name or mascot.
The agreement is good for 10 years but is reevaluated every three years. It was also stipulated that a member of the tribe would be included on the district’s curriculum and instruction committee as an advisory member and that the district would adopt a Native American curriculum.
“At first I felt frustrated by the local tribe’s agreement to allow RHS to use the mascot,” Bascom said. “I didn’t think it was fair to let one tribe decide something that negatively affects natives, especially considering there are over 500 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. This was before I talked to someone from the Cow Creek Tribe.
“After a very insightful hour-long phone call with someone from their tribe I now completely understand why they made that decision. They did so out of personal safety. They received so much negative backlash, to the point of death threats, last time this was up for review. I now understand that the local tribe was put in a position they didn’t want to be in. I was told that they won’t oppose the change but they can’t be the ones to publicly make this decision. RHS needs to be responsible for this change.”
A spokesperson for the tribe did not respond to inquiries from The News-Review.
Roseburg High School had a football and girls basketball team in 1901 and added a boys basketball team in 1902, but there was no mention of mascots in any articles written at that time.
By 1918, the school had adopted Indians as the mascot and the logo was a Native American smoking a pipe. The logo was changed multiple times over the next century but remained a caricature until the mid-2000s.
“The intent may be to ‘honor’ natives, but the very real impact is that there are no positive benefits to keeping a native mascot for the native community,” Bascom said. “No other race is being used in this way. By continuing to allow this racist mascot to represent Roseburg you are essentially saying that you don’t care about the safety of native children. Native mascots are a form of erasure for Indigenous people. If we don’t exist in a modern context and we remain as mascots then it’s 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.
“Can you imagine how wrong it would be if they were the Roseburg Mexicans or the Roseburg Asians,” she said. “Why is it socially acceptable to use natives in this way? It shouldn’t be.”
The debate over mascots has been going on for decades and continues today, both on a local and national level.
In 1968, the National Congress of American Indians launched a campaign to address stereotypes of native people in sports and culture.
The organization said, “The intolerance and harm promoted by these ‘Indian’ sports mascots, logos, or symbols, have very real consequences for native people. Specifically, rather than honoring natives people, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuate negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples, and contribute to a disregard for natives peoples.”
On July 13, the Washington Redskins, an NFL team, changed its name to the Washington Football Team.
“Today is a day for all native people to celebrate,” officials from the NCAI said in a statement. “We thank the generations of tribal nations, leaders, and activists who worked for decades to make this day possible. We commend the Washington NFL team for eliminating a brand that disrespected, demeaned, and stereotyped all native people, and we call on all other sports teams and corporate brands to retire all caricatures of Native Americans that they use as their mascots. We are not mascots — we are native people, citizens of more than 500 tribal nations who have stood strong for millennia and overcome countless challenges to reach this pivotal moment in time when we can help transform America into the just, equitable, and compassionate country our children deserve.”
Within days, Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians announced conversations were taking place to consider a name change, too.
Several activists have worked hard to change the way people view Native Americans, as more than savages and warriors, among them is Matika Wilbur, a photographer in coastal Washington.
“One evening while on Matika Wilbur’s Instagram stories, I saw a petition started by a native where they were asking for their high school to drop their native mascot. I clicked on the link to sign it,” Bascom said. “As I signed, more petitions with similar requests started popping up.”
PETITION TO CHANGE RHS MASCOT
After she’d signed several petitions, Bascom felt inspired to start her own. One that was much more personal to her.
“I knew in that moment that instead of being bothered by Roseburg’s Indian mascot it was time to try to change it,” she said.
She shared her petition on an alumni Facebook page and was met with mixed results.
“There were definitely some very rude, negative comments on there where people attacked me personally. People tagged me in some pretty mean, hateful comments,” she said. “All my friends in real life and a good amount of alumni have given me positive feedback though. Each positive message, each share, each signature by a name I recognize helps me feel less alone and truly means the world to me.”
IMPACT OF A MASCOT
Bascom said high school for her was a constant reminder that she didn’t fit in.
“As a brown person in a mostly white setting I stood out,” she said. “I can’t even count how many times I was asked by people the dehumanizing question, ‘What are you?’”
She vividly recalls the day a classmate told her, “I thought we killed off all the Indians,” or when someone she considered a friend told her she couldn’t be upset about racist things that were said to her because “only black people experience racism.”
“The comments that were made toward me made me feel like there was something wrong with me,” Bascom said. “Sadly, I think I even felt a little bit ashamed of my heritage for a while because I just wanted to fit in. One summer I went to a camp over on my tribe’s reservation in Chiloquin. I remember I’d recently cut my hair pretty short. All the girls on the reservation had long hair and most of them either lived on the reservation or nearby. They saw me as an outsider too, just like my RHS classmates. I really felt like there was nowhere I belonged.”
Bascom isn’t alone in that feeling. Studies have shown that Native American mascots cause higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and substance abuse in native youth as well as increased discrimination in schools.
In 2018-2019, Roseburg High School had 1,423 students and 1% of students identified as American Indian/Alaska Native. According to data from the Oregon Department of Education, those students were less like to regularly attend school and were below the school and state average of on-time graduation.
“The purpose of schools is educating children and to open doors for them. How the mascot relates to that is many standard deviations away. A mascot’s relationship to education is to me almost insignificant,” Cordon said. “We want to provide opportunities and a future for children. The mascot is almost irrelevant.”
However, when asked if the school district would consider changing the mascot because of its negative impacts on students, Cordon said, “Part of our strategic plan is providing a safe and inclusive environment. We want kids to be safe and heard and respected, and I am unwilling to bend on that. That is the purpose of the organization. We really believe, for kids to have the access they need to feel like they belong and that this is their school and have people cheering them on. If the mascot runs counter to that, we should pay attention to that.”
WILL THERE BE CHANGE?
Cordon said he had received multiple emails with requests to change the name, but also received a request to keep the name.
Cordon said the person who wanted to keep the name was more concerned about the financial impact and that the money would be better spent on students.
The cost to replace the mascot name, especially if the school kept its logo and colors, would not be very high, according to Colton.
“I don’t believe this would a significant cost,” Cordon said. “I don’t think cost would be the limiting factor or deciding factor in this case.”
But making the change isn’t up to Cordon, it’s up to the school board.
Cordon said it’s likely to be brought up at a future board meeting, but before making the change he hopes to talk to students, community members and do more research.
The News-Review reached out to native students but did not get a response.
Bascom said Weber agreed in a phone conversation that “the change needs to be made” but that “ she feels fearful too because she doesn’t want to lose community support.”
Weber said she didn’t want to share details of her private conversations through the media.
The founder of the Facebook group “Save the Roseburg Indians!,” which was started in 2012 didn’t respond to The News-Review. The group’s last post was made in January 2016 when it was announced the state board of education would allow Roseburg to continue using the mascot.
When she made her petition public, Bascom also received negative comments, including racist messages.
Bascom contacted Matika Wilbur, the Washington photographer, to get advice on how to deal with the comments.
“She gave me the most beautiful reply,” Bascom said. “She told me, ‘I believe that living our own best life is the ultimate tool for fighting a system that was made to destroy me. I indulge in the good of life: Good food, good lovin’, good prayers, all the sweet things they make the salty bearable.’ I’ve been carrying her words in my heart.”
Bascom said she also finds strength in her heritage and culture.
She reminds herself that her paternal grandmother was bussed away at 4 years old to an Indian boarding school where the mission was to “Kill the Indian, save the man” and that her maternal great-great-grandmother was forced to relocate via the Trail of Tears because of the Indian Removal Act.
“At times the sadness of all of that is really heavy,” Bascom said. “I just try to remember that I carry their strength and resilience.”
These days being a member of the Klamath Tribe helps Bascom feel validated in her cultural identity and is something she is passing on to her children.
“My 13-year-old son recently went hunting on our reservation with my dad. It’s really special that he’s able to experience that,” she said. “I only wish that I could be dually enrolled.”
Both of her parents are enrolled members of a tribe, her dad with the Klamath Tribe and her mom with the Creek Tribe.
Bascom is raising three children in the Portland area, but many of her family members still live in Roseburg.
“I focused my petition on Roseburg because that is where I grew up and that is where I experienced the negative atmosphere of their Indian mascot,” Bascom said. “Also, we’ve thought about moving back, but I would never do that if my kids had to attend high school with a racist mascot that mocks our culture.”