SALEM — A state policy that requires schools to erase Native American logos from uniforms, sports fields, trophy cases and other items would be loosened under a bill passed by the state Senate on Wednesday.
Under the bill, schools could keep their Native American mascots if local tribes approve of them.
Critics of the mascots have said they are racist. But supporters of the mascots, including some tribal members, say they are a source of pride.
Sen. Jeff Kruse, a Roseburg Republican and the chief sponsor of the bill, said it should be up to tribes to decide if a mascot is discriminatory.
“I’m a Roseburg Indian and I’m a proud Roseburg Indian,” he said Wednesday. “And that is a symbol of pride for me. To put a negative connotation on this is beyond-belief absurd.”
Kruse said that in his view, mascots honor the state’s Native history.
Less than a year ago, the state Board of Education imposed a statewide ban on Native American mascots in schools.
The board gave schools with Native American mascots until July 2017 to change them, or risk losing state funding. Fifteen Oregon high schools use Native American mascots for their schools, with names like the Banks Braves and the Roseburg Indians.
Reyn Leno, tribal council chairman for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, said he is less concerned about Native American mascots in schools than he is about how his tribe’s history is taught.
“People need to learn our history,” he said Wednesday. “Then maybe we wouldn’t have to deal with ... disrespectful school mascots.”
Leno said he doesn’t find Native American school mascots offensive, but believes local tribes should be the decision makers on the matter.
“The banned names — Indians, Braves, Warriors, and Chiefs — are inspirational Native images and we do not view their use as derogatory,” he said in earlier testimony.
Susan Hansen, a resident of Mollala and a critic of the bill, said that she thinks the mascots reduce Native American traditions to cartoon figures, and also give students the idea that stereotyping is acceptable.
In 2006, the education board recommended schools stop using Native American mascots. Some abided and changed their mascots and logos. But some small communities resisted, saying the nicknames are a source of pride.