Oregon’s ban on Native American mascots gets complicated

A year after Oregon's Board of Education banned Native American mascots in schools, the state's governor doubled down, vowing to veto a bill that would allow institutions to reach agreements with local tribes to circumvent the ban, according to The Oregonian.

Oregon's Molalla High features its "Indians" mascot on the baseball diamond's dugout -- The Oregonian
Oregon's Molalla High features its "Indians" mascot on the baseball diamond's dugout -- The Oregonian

The State Senate passed Senate Bill 215 in May 2012, allowing schools and the nearest Native American tribe to reach a mutual agreement on an acceptable mascot, but Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber sent a memo on Friday alerting the House he would not sign it.

The House is scheduled to vote on the bill this week, but Kitzhaber's announcement may complicate matters before the Legislature adjourns this week.

The Democratic Governor, in his second year in office, is open to schools adopting the "name and imagery" of a local tribe upon its permission, The Oregonian reported, much like the agreement reached between Florida State University and the Seminole Nation.

As currently written, however, Kitzhaber called interpretations of the bill "too broad."

“I hope we can work together over the coming months to bring to the board or the 2014 Legislature a proposal that would provide for reasonable exceptions to the ban without violating the board’s obligation to prohibit discrimination in education,” Ktizhaber wrote in the memo obtained by The Oregonian.

Eight Oregon high schools must remove all references to Native American mascots that range from Indians to Chiefs to Braves by 2017, and another seven schools nicknamed the "Warriors" must eliminate any Native American imagery on their mascot's imagery.

One such school, Molalla (Ore.) High, estimated the cost of removing all "Indians" insignia from school grounds at upwards of "hundreds of thousands of dollars."

"It is racist," Oregon Indian Education Association vice president Se-ah-dom Edmo told The Oregonian of Native American mascots when the Board of Education first passed the ban. "It is harmful. It is shaming. It is dehumanizing."

The issue of Native American mascots has been a hot-button topic for years -- from preps to colleges to professional sports franchises like the Washington Redskins -- including earlier this month, when the U.S. Department of Education dismissed a complaint filed by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights aimed at banning such imagery.

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