Ute tribal leaders say the state could be a shining example for the nation if Native American mascots were retired at public schools.
Earlier this year, House Bill 15-1165 was introduced in Denver to create a committee to determine if Native American mascots at schools were offensive. The legislation ultimately failed along party lines in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The controversial topic was raised again last week at a Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA) meeting in Ignacio, home to the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.
Aware that some school districts felt that they were being attacked by the proposed bill, Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia told CCIA commissioners that the state was prepared to move forward, stating that a constructive dialogue was needed. He said school officials should know that the use of Native American names and mascots were outdated and offensive.
“We need to say to schools, ‘Your name, your mascot isn’t respectful, and if you want to honor Native American culture in your community, there are better ways to do that, and let us help you,’” Garcia said. “I think that would be less threatening and less coercive, and hopefully more productive.”
Ute Mountain Ute tribal member and CCIA executive director Ernest House, Jr., said a commission to study Native American mascots at Colorado public schools was likely to be established within weeks.
“This is an effort on how to get engaged,” said House.
Over the summer, House met on multiple occasions with Strasburg community officials, which utilize an “Indians” logo, to address their use of a Native American-themed mascot. During the legislative battle this year, Strasburg officials vehemently opposed any mascot change, citing government overreach.
“They are currently discussing changing their logos,” House told CCIA commissioners last week.
House credited the change in attitude to open discussions that Strasburg officials had held with Native American constituents. He said nearly 50 public schools across Colorado exploited Native American’s with offensive names and mascots in 2014, but there were only about three dozen schools that continue to use those types of mascots currently.
“We’re seeing a decrease,” House said, “and we hope that schools like Strasburg will serve as a model for other schools.”
In response, Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Manuel Heart said he would enthusiastically send a delegation from Towaoc to meet with school and community leaders to help them understand why Native-themed mascots held negative connotations among tribal members.
“You have to be respectful of the war bonnet,” Heart said, pointing to mascots that feature Indian chiefs.
Ute Mountain Ute council member Juantita Plentyholes suggested that tribal officials could also meet with various business leaders across the state to launch a fundraising campaign that could be utilized by impacted schools to help offset rebranding costs. Strasburg officials, for example, have indicated that changing their mascot could cost up to $75,000.
“I think it would be neat if Colorado took the lead on this,” said Plentyholes. “Maybe other states would follow.”
According to CCIA commissioners, some of the most offensive mascot names in Colorado include the Lamar Savages and the La Veta Redskins.