Roseburg Public Schools’ priority is making sure school amid the COVID-19 pandemic starts as smoothly as possible this fall while still keeping equity and education in mind, according to board chair Rebecca Larson.
“Right now, as we are focused on equity and education of our students, we really have directed our attention currently to our reopening plan and how we can best serve our students, right now,” Larson said. “And there’s some immediacy to the attention that we need to give the reopening.”
As they’ve focused on those efforts, school board members and administrators have also received messages calling to change the name of the Roseburg High School mascot as well as the name of Joseph Lane Middle School.
“We’ve heard from patrons who have expressed opinions on both sides of the matter, and we want you to know that we appreciate that our community members are reaching out with their thoughts and suggestions and concerns,” Larson said. “We also want to assure everyone that all community input will be taken into account as we begin the process of addressing school and mascot names.
“Roseburg Public Schools’ strategic plan is rooted in equity with the goal of providing safe and inclusive environments for all students, staff and family. The board shares and is committed to upholding these values. That being said, we want to address this process in a manner that we can give it our attention and the time that it needs to do it correctly.”
Jessica Bascom, a member of the Klamath Tribe, started an online petition in June asking the school district to change the name of the Indians mascot due to its racist nature and harmful effects on Native American students. The petition has been signed by more than 1,200 people.
Bascom addressed the school board Thursday, saying, “The pandemic of racism in our country is as deadly as COVID. Your delay in responding appropriately to removing something harmful to native youth is unacceptable. This needs your immediate attention.”
The school board has another meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday of next week. Building or mascot names, however, were not on the agenda as of 4 p.m. on Friday. A school board work session on equity, which was mentioned during a June board meeting, has also not yet taken place.
The News-Review published an article in Sunday’s edition regarding Bascom’s petition and her research behind it.
Once the article published, people were quick to respond via social media.
“Oh stop already they have a feather now I know native Americans and they don’t have a problem with Roseburg Indians name leave them alone,” Jeannie Hickey Schneider wrote.
Katie Thompson wrote, “She claims she’s native American and it offends her. My daughter is N.A. as well and it doesn’t offend us!”
On Tuesday, Gene Coon said being a Roseburg High School Indian was something to be proud of.
“We were all proud to be Indians,” the longtime Roseburg resident said in an interview. “Listen to the song, the Roseburg High School song. It’s a proud song. It’s not derogatory or inflammatory to Indians in any way, shape or form.”
Lyrics to the Roseburg High School fight song are, “On Roseburg High School. Fighting for our fame. We won’t let the sons of ____ (opponent name), Put our names to shame. Rah Rah Rah. On Roseburg High School. Victory is our aim. Fight for the right, Oh fight for the right, To call it the Indian game.”
Coon continued by saying the image used by The News-Review on the front page, a caricature of a Native American with a headdress on and a tomahawk in one hand and pipe in the other, was in bad taste and deliberately inflammatory.
The image was an old Roseburg High School mascot, which has changed numerous times over the past century. The high school is currently using a feather for its logo, with the most recent change coming in the mid 2000s, according to Principal Jill Weber.
Coon recalled the high school using a proud chief as its mascot while she was in school and also when her children attended the high school.
“I think this article that was written, and that picture was way, way out of line,” she said. “And I think it was really in bad taste, all the way around to use that because I think it was just trying to start a problem where there really shouldn’t be a problem. Cow Creek tribe has many times approved.”
The tribe has not taken an official position on the mascot name.
Susan Ferris, spokesperson of the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, said when the tribe was approached by Roseburg High Schools students on this topic in the past, students were told to do what they thought was best.
Ferris added the tribe is in favor of advancing the education of Native American history.
The tribe and school district reached an agreement in 2017 that would allow the high school to continue using the mascot name. The agreement is good for 10 years and is reviewed at least every three years and included a stipulation to teach Native American history at the school.
The agreement between the two entities was necessary for the continued use of the mascot.
Bascom said that she’s doesn’t feel honored by the mascot. “If this is how they honor me, I don’t want their honor,” she said.
The American Psychological Association has recommended the retirement of American Indian mascots since 2005.
“The use of American Indian mascots as symbols in schools and university athletic programs is particularly troubling because schools are places of learning,” wrote Ronald Levant, former APA president. “These mascots are teaching stereotypical, misleading and too often, insulting images of American Indians. These negative lessons are not just affecting American Indian students; they are sending the wrong message to all students.”
Bascom cited studies by Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, who teaches American Indian Studies and Psychology at the University of Washington, to show the negative impacts on Native American students. Those studies showed 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.
“She may have her own personal reasons, but her own personal reasons don’t mean to be inflicted on everyone else,” Coon said. “If she has a personal problem with it, she needs to resolve it herself.”
Native American Guardian’s Association, an organization that works to keep native imagery in the public eye, said the studies cited by Bascom had been discredited. However, they were unable to show any evidence of this.
“I just think it needs to take care of it in a different way other than inflict all of the hullabaloo when it doesn’t need to be inflicted,” Coon said. “We’re called the Umpqua Valley for heaven’s sakes, why should we not honor Umpqua Indians of our area. I think by having the Indian as a mascot, even though it’s now just a pathetic little feather, I think that’s all honorable. Not hateful, not mean, not rude.”
Bascom held a protest at the school last Sunday with about a dozen other people in attendance, where she held up signs that said “Not Your Mascot” and “No More Racist Mascot.”
During the protest, there were people who honked in support, but there were also several who yelled out “Go Indians” or extended their middle finger towards the protesters. A second protest was held in front of the school on Friday afternoon, and many who drove by showed the same signs of support and disapproval.
Bascom said she also had a number of interactions with people who stopped at the school Sunday.
She said a person told her to get out of town and stop causing trouble, while another called her the N-word. “It wasn’t even the right racial slur,” Bascom said.
Another protest, not organized by Bascom, is scheduled to take place from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday in front of the high school.