Bill banning American Indian mascots passes Colorado Senate

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DENVER (KDVR) — A bill that would bring a big cultural change to schools in Colorado is advancing at the Capitol.

The measure would ban the use of American Indians and related symbolism as mascots for all public, charter, and institute charter schools.

While some have said it’s beyond time for this bill to become law, others say the move could reduce the American Indian community’s visibility.

“I am a proud graduate of Montrose High school – the Montrose High School Indians – and that is truly an honored position in our community,” said Montrose Sen. Don Coram.

WaziHanska Cook of the American Indian Academy of Denver said native students who watch peers perform war cries, chants and rituals during school events are often traumatized.

“The continuing appropriation and dishonoring of mascots and people, not understanding the deep cultural significance of our songs, of our drums, our ceremonies, those honorings that we have, is deeply hurtful,” Cook said. “People just don’t know. They think they are honoring people because they think we are just not here anymore.”

The bill requires schools to pay a fine of $25,000 to the state education fund every month they keep an American Indian mascot after June of 2022.

“Money will come forward in some of these smaller communities. The GoFundMe page is going to go up to pay for that,” Coram said on the Senate floor during debate.

While some said next summer will not be enough time for small schools to choose a new mascot, the bill sponsor said they had ample to time to make the change, since the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs commissioned a study.

“The study said the use of Native Americans as mascots is not a good thing for Colorado youth, it’s not a good thing for our communities, and we should move away from those mascots. They’ve had five years since that report was issued, but in reality they’ve had decades to make these changes on their own,” Sen. Jessie Danielson of Jefferson County, who is a prime sponsor for the bill, said.

“Not only have Indigenous Peoples had their homeland stolen, but their culture has been continually trivialized and appropriated,” Danielson said. “For decades, schools and sports teams have used degrading imagery as mascots – calling themselves the ‘Savages,’ ‘Reds,’ or ‘Indians.’ Not only is this practice harmful and offensive, but it is in direct defiance of requests from Indigenous Coloradans, who have demanded for years that these derogatory mascots be discontinued.”

Some schools have already made the transformation. Cheyenne Mountain High in Colorado Springs is retiring its mascot, the Indians. Loveland High School is now home of the Red Wolves after retiring the Indians last year.

On the other hand, schools like Lamar (Savages), Eaton (Reds) and Frederick (Warriors) would still need to change their names.

This bill would not affect schools like Arapahoe High, which has an agreement with a tribe.

“They have these longstanding relationships with the Northern Arapaho and they will be allowed to stand as is, which respects the sovereignty of the tribe and it’s exactly what the bill intends to do,” Danielson said.

In a statement, Littleton Public Schools said:

“Tribal elders worked with Arapahoe High School administration and student council to create a wonderful, unique relationship between the Arapaho Tribal Nation and our high school.  The Arapahoe Warrior logo — which was designed by a Northern Arapaho artist — demonstrates the decades-long relationship between the two communities that runs far deeper than the creation of the Arapahoe Warrior logo. 

Moving forward, this relationship will always be nurtured and further developed. It will continue to be a central part of the Arapahoe High School culture; it will always shape and define it. 

We thank Senator Jessie Danielson for recognizing and respecting this relationship.”

The bill passed along party lines in the Senate Friday. It heads to the House next.

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