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Schools To Debate Native American Mascots Again

Native American icons and mascots affiliated with high school athletic programs may become a thing of the past. Advisors to the state's education chief agreed Tuesday on draft recommendations that could spell the end of an era.

The proposal will be the topic of months of public meetings this fall, where boosters of high school traditions may square off against Oregon's tribal members. Rob Manning reports.

The two-page draft opens with a paragraph from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. It warns that non-native schools using Native American icons could be engaging in discrimination.

Brad Victor is a state education policy specialist. He says the key to the Native American Mascot advisory group's work was to insure the safety and comfort of Indian students.

Brad Victor: “And it came through the three meetings that we had that they felt one way of accomplishing that would be to advise that schools no longer use native logos or mascots in the Oregon school system.”

The draft suggests that the 16 or so schools with Native American logos agree on new names by September 2009, and have the new logos phased-in by 2011. Two additional recommendations emphasize culturally appropriate instruction and avoidance of stereotypes.

Lee Paterson is the superintendent for the Roseburg School District, where high school teams are called “the Indians.” He agrees with the additional recommendations.

Lee Paterson: “(But) to mandate communities that have used respectful references and Native American imagery in a very respectful way for generations, may not be the best course of action.”

State officials say they've been hearing for years from Native American students who are uncomfortable with logos and mascots depicting, or parodying, their culture.

Ed Dennis is deputy superintendent for the State of Oregon. He says in years past, he's heard of offensive rituals, like burning tepees at Roseburg High School, where the mascot is the “Indian”.

Ed Dennis: “Some of those practices have changed as a result of community dialogue - some of those practices are still happening. It may not be the same thing as 'burning of the tepee', but you do have students who report feeling uncomfortable at 'scalping the Indians' and those kinds of things.”

Roseburg Superintendent, Lee Paterson, says he doesn't recall any burned tepees in his 40 years in town. He agrees with Dennis, that the Native imagery has been toned down. But Paterson says he thinks community members will  oppose a ban, based on what he's heard.

Lee Paterson: “ I've been repeatedly approached by those who urged me to be protective of our use of Native American imagery.”

Paterson says he has met with local members of the Cow Creek band of the Umpqua, and been responsive, when the tribe has had concerns.

Deputy Superintendent, Ed Dennis says the draft recommendations will be the subject of a number of public meetings  and could still change substantially. He says a final plan is likely to come before Superintendent Susan Castillo and the state board of education before the end of the year.

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