Editorial: Mascot bills would encourage dialogue between schools, tribes

State legislators are considering bills that would reverse a ban on Native American mascots at high schools. The ban was approved last year by the state Board of Education.

The arguments haven’t changed, and we still think the ban is a mistake. As we said at the time, truly offensive references should surely be removed, but it goes too far to declare the use of words like chief and brave and warrior to be negative no matter what. On the contrary, used properly they speak to admirable qualities of courage, strength and leadership.

There’s a divide among the Native American representatives who have testified at legislative hearings. Some have said schools need to improve education about tribal history, not ban mascot names. But others say they are indeed offended by the mascots and experience them as discriminatory.

Senate Bill 501 would block the state from withholding money from districts that do not comply with the mascot ban.

House Bill 3397 and an amended version of Senate Bill 215 would reverse the ban, but would also demand a dialogue between schools and nearby native tribes. The latter two bills essentially declare that not all uses of Native American mascots should be assumed to be discriminatory.

The relevant language says that discrimination does not include “The use of a mascot that represents, or is associated with, a specific Native American tribe if the governing body of the Native American tribe has entered into an agreement with the entity using the mascot and the agreement describes the acceptable uses of the mascot.”

This appears to encourage the attractive model set in Roseburg, where the high school consulted with the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and made mutually agreed-upon changes. That’s a model worth promoting. A positive collaboration between school and tribe in Lebanon was also described at one of the hearings.

The blanket ban imposed by the state oversimplifies a complex and contentious issue and takes control away from communities. HB 3397 and SB215 would create dialogue between school districts and tribes, surely a better result.