A bill that would have created a committee to review the use of Native American mascots in Colorado public schools was killed by a 3-2 party-line vote Wednesday night in the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee.
The majority Republicans cited financial concerns and the objections from some school districts that their nicknames should be a matter for local control. Similar legislation was killed in 2010. Since then, a national debate surrounding the nickname and symbols of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins has continued unabated.
According to the advocacy group American Indian Cultural Support, 48 Colorado schools have Native American mascots, including the La Veta Redskins and Lamar Savages. Indian Country Today put the number at more than 30 schools.
In a joint statement after the bill was defeated, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who is also chair of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Manuel Heart and Southern Ute Chairman Clement Frost said, “Institutions which strive to teach respect and dignity to our next generation should recognize that displays of American Indian war paint, headdresses and tomahawk chants may be offensive to tribal nations and Native people.
“Intentionally or not, they often degrade the proud and ongoing legacy of American Indians in Colorado and everywhere throughout the nation,” the statement said.
The bill called for the creation of a committee of nine Native Americans who would determine whether school mascots featuring Native Americans were offensive. If so, the school districts that refused to change would have faced fines.
In March testimony on the bill, John Sampson, vice president of Strasburg School District 31J, said names like the Strasburg High School’s Indians are not meant to be offensive, according to a story by 9News.
“This bill acts to diminish local school board control over school issues, smacks of governmental control overreach and is a waste of tax payer funds,” Sampson said.
He testified that it would cost his district about $75,000 to change the Indian name where it appears, on athletic uniforms, gymnasium floors and score boards
Despite the bill’s defeat, the conversation surrounding the issue was constructive, said Ernest House, executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. “Although we were sad to see it defeated, a lot of communities are talking about what is appropriate” in using Native American culture and symbols, he said.
House praised the efforts of Arapahoe High School in Centennial in reaching out to the Northern Arapahoe tribe on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming to collaborate around the school’s mascot, symbols and other issues.
The school remains the Arapahoe Warriors, but the Northern Arapahoe are pleased with how the usage is being depicted, House said.