What does it mean to be an Indian? For millions, including myself, it is a racial and cultural identity. There are over 500 federally recognized Indian Tribes in the US. Is it appropriate to use our racial identity as a mascot when most mascots are animals or objects? No. It is dehumanizing. Do you think it would be ok for RHS to be called the Roseburg Mexicans or the Roseburg Asians? If you can understand why both of those names would be problematic, then you can see why the Roseburg Indians is not an appropriate mascot. Representations matter.
Many studies show native mascots negatively affect Native youth. They create a hostile school environment for Native kids and are linked to depression, negative self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts. This is why in 2005 the American Psychological Association called for the immediate retirement of all Native mascots by schools and teams, why Oregon restricts the use of native mascots, why Washington has banned native mascots, and why Colorado has proposed a bill that fines schools that use them. Even when native mascots are used with respectful intention they have a negative impact.
Just a few decades ago, Indian kids were forcibly removed from their families and sent away to Indian Boarding schools to assimilate. They didn’t blend in with their white peers but stood out and were seen as a problem. The motto for Indian boarding schools was “kill the Indian, save the man.” In the 1940’s my grandma, an enrolled member of the Klamath Tribe, was taken away from her family at 4 years old here in Oregon. During a time when white kids were pretending to be Indians through the popularization of native mascots across the country, real Indian kids were being punished for actually being Indians.
On Wednesday the Roseburg school board voted on retiring the mascot. Five out of six members voted to retire the mascot. If that vote had happened under their previous metrics the mascot would have been retired. The board revised their policy in 2020 requiring the decision to be unanimous instead of majority. By using a policy that requires a unanimous decision, one man, Charles Lee, was given complete control. He was able to cast a deciding vote on something that affects so many. This is dangerous because he has shown he is incapable of separating his opinion from the reality of proven harm.
This movement isn’t going to stop because one white man wants to discredit scientific studies, doubt personal experience, and ignore the pleas from the group being used. Natives have been fighting for native mascots to be removed for decades. Stanford University recognized the harm to the Native community and changed their Indian mascot back in 1972. I know not all Natives agree on this, and that’s OK. We’re not a monolith. Not all white folks agree on a single issue either. The majority of Natives do not want to be mascots and in response over 1,500 Native organizations have publicly called for this change as the national movement has gained momentum.
There’s no honor in hearing white people claim they’re “Roseburg Indians” because they attended RHS. To claim someone else’s cultural identity as your own is the very definition of cultural appropriation. As my mom, an enrolled member of the Creek Nation, said, “Going to a school with an Indian mascot doesn’t make you an Indian anymore than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.”
Hearing opposing teams yell, “Beat the Indians” and “Scalp ‘Em,” is not safe or welcoming in our stands or the stands our athletes participate in outside of Roseburg at sporting events. It creates a hostile environment for Natives. Also, Roseburg students are being put in uncomfortable situations because they are being associated with the racism attached to the Indian name on their uniforms.
The Roseburg athletic director, the RHS principal, and five Roseburg school board members have all said the mascot needs to change. But it remains because of systemic racism, literally represented by a policy in the Roseburg school system preventing the change. Even though there was a vote, the five board members who acknowledged harm are all responsible for ensuring it gets removed or they become complicit in the discrimination and need to update their equity statement.
Also there are currently Native children from various tribes attending RHS that are being subject to this unsafe environment. RHS having an agreement with the Cow Creek Tribe doesn’t negate the fact that harm is being done. If your Black friend gave you permission to use the n word it would still be wrong. Just as one person shouldn’t be able to decide for an entire board, one tribe shouldn’t be able to decide for an entire race.
All of our kids deserve better.