Oregon Board Close To Vote On Native American Mascot Ban

May 7, 2012

Fifteen Oregon schools may have to change their sports imagery soon. A state panel could vote later this month [May 17] on whether to ban Native American-themed mascots. The proposal faces resistance, as Salem Correspondent Chris Lehman found on a visit to the Willamette Valley town of Molalla.

This fall, Denise Everhart's son will become the fifth generation in his family to attend Molalla High School. He plans to play football.

Everhart: "He will be on the field as an Indian."

And Everhart will be watching from the stands…the stands we're sitting in on this gray, rainy spring afternoon. What you won't see on game night, says Everhart, is anyone doing a tomahawk chop or a war whoop.

Everhart: "But we do yell 'Go Indians.'"

And Everhart sees nothing wrong with that. But by the time her son graduates, fans could be yelling something else. That's because a proposal before the Oregon State Board of Education would require public schools to phase out the use of Native American themed mascots over the next five years. And that has Everhart and some other Molalla residents upset. She's organized a petition drive to try to convince the board not to make the change.

Everhart: "This is Molalla. That's an Indian name. And we are the Molalla Indians. It's meant to be respectful and honor the history of this town, and to ensure that that history is not forgotten."

But where some people see respect, others see the remnants of a shameful past. The current effort to ban Native American mascots in Oregon was kick-started six years ago by then-high school student and Siletz tribal member Che Butler. His basketball team played in Molalla. His family witnessed a halftime show that he says was derogatory toward Native traditions. Butler's effort bore little fruit at first, but he testified during a series of hearings this spring as the issue came back to the forefront.

Butler: "I didn't come here to try and hurt people or come here to offend people or try and take something away from them that gives them a sense of pride. I just came here because it was a hurt and it's something that needs to be addressed that hasn't been addressed. It's just been swept under the rug for all these generations."

Supporters of keeping names like Warriors, Chieftans and Braves say when used respectfully, the team names can enhance the image of Native culture. But Tom Ball of the University of Oregon's Office of Diversity doesn’t buy that. The Klamath Tribe member says it’s just an excuse.

Ball: "If they want to talk about all of our good strong points that we have with our culture and what we contribute to society, they don’t need a mascot to do that.”

In Molalla, Superintendent Wayne Kostur says some changes were made after Che Butler's initial push to ban the school's mascot. The word "Indians" no longer appears on team uniforms and students no longer dress up in buckskins for the halftime show. An Indian head logo is still displayed at several athletic facilities. But for the record, Kostur says he isn't opposed to finding a new mascot.

Kostur: "If that's a change we need to make, then let's embrace that change and let's move forward."

But Kostur is retiring at the end of the school year. So he won't be around if and when the school is forced to change its mascot. The same is true for current Molalla High School students, such as track athlete Clare Thomas. But the lifelong Molalla resident says it would be weird to come back to her school and no longer be able to root for the Molalla Indians.

Thomas: "It's kind of disappointing that they're going to change it, because it's kind of a symbol of Molalla itself. But if they're offended, then they're offended, so I don't think we should be offending anybody.”

Some schools would not have to change their team name under the proposed rule being considered by the State Board of Education. The seven schools that use "Warriors" would be able to keep the name, but could no longer use any Native American imagery with it.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network