Governor’s commission issues guidelines for American Indian representations in public schools

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

DENVER -- Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Governor’s Commission to Study American Indian Representation in Public Schools on Monday released suggested guidelines on the use of mascots and imagery in Colorado public schools.

“This commission has charted a path forward for Colorado with a willingness to work together through conversation and collaboration,” Hickenlooper said. “We are grateful to everyone who participated in this process. Their hard work gives us all a better understanding of each other and the complexities of this issue.”

Colorado has as many as 30 schools that use names, logos or mascots related to American Indians.

"We have potentially offensive names, potentially offensive caricatures, potentially offensive logos," said Ernest House Jr., executive director for Colorado Commission for Indian Affairs.

While House said no schools were named in the report as using offensive mascots or logos, there are many who might be asked to partner with tribes to review their names and logos, and how they are depicted. Two of those schools are the Lamar Savages and the Eaton Reds.

"Native American scalps were paid. By being stained in blood, their own blood, being redskins and having a bounty paid for those scalps was something that has been very offensive," House said of the terms "red' and "redskins."

The group was joined by William (Bill) Mendoza, the executive director of White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education.

Representatives from federally recognized tribes, Colorado’s American Indian population, institutions of public education, state agencies and community stakeholders make up the 15 member commission. The commission was created by the governor in 2015 through executive order.

After five months the group established four guiding principles that can be taken on by local communities, educational institutions, state agencies and organizations.

  • The elimination of derogatory and offensive American Indian mascots, imagery and names, and a strong recommendation for communities to review their depictions in facilitated public forums.
  • The recognition and respect of tribal sovereignty and a strong recommendation for schools to enter into formal relationships with federally recognized tribe to retain their American Indian imagery.
  • The recognition and respect of local control by elected boards of education and an active involvement of local communities, students, and citizens around the topic of American Indian mascots.
  • A strong educational focus and outreach.

“Through participation in this commission, our tribe was able to see the lack of education and awareness around American Indian history and culture in Colorado’s public schools,” Southern Ute Indian Tribe Chairman Clement Frost said. "And to ensure that this history is taught comprehensively and accurately.”

The commission was invited by four communities with American Indian mascots to engage in a discussion about the ongoing struggle for local traditions vs. the desire to treat American Indians respectfully, and honor their history and culture.

“The recommendations made by Gov. Hickenlooper and the commission are not only needed and appropriate, they are consistent with the concerns raised by native youth across the country, who are calling upon education decision-makers to address harmful Native-themed imagery so that all students, particularly Native Americans, experience a safe and welcoming school environment,” Mendoza said.

“As an administrator, emphasizing respect for all cultures and for all people is one of our most important educational missions,” Strasburg High School principal Jeff Rasp said. "Our partnership with the Arapahoe tribe has been one of the most beneficial experiences ever for our school.”

“The use of American Indian mascots creates an opportunity for schools and tribes to engage in meaningful relationships with one another,” Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Chairman Manuel Heart said. "Schools like Strasburg High School are positive examples of a way in which the use of a mascot can be the catalyst for fostering a respectful, educational and unique partnership that also acknowledges the sovereignty of American Indian nations.”

AlertMe