DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday signed an executive order creating a commission to study migrating away from Native American mascots.
The order comes after legislation failed this year at the Colorado Legislature, which would have limited Native American mascots at public schools. The bill was controversial, as it would have financially penalized schools for using disapproved mascots.
The commission created by Hickenlooper’s order will host statewide meetings in communities where Native American mascots are used. Both sides of the debate – including Native Americans and community interests – will be able to engage each other in the conversation.
“The whole purpose behind the executive order is to build upon the community relationships,” said Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, who was disappointed to watch his mascot bill die earlier this year. “It’s to help educate one another about American Indians and also have American Indians be in the communities themselves.”
The order points out that several Colorado communities have found collaborative ways to move away from using ethnic mascots. The exact number is unclear, but as many as 40 schools still use American Indian mascots in Colorado. Of those, only a handful have been viewed as offensive.
“In some cases, these districts have even found ways to use the debate over offensive mascots as an opportunity to educate students about our common history and bring diverse communities together,” the executive order states.
The 15-member commission will include Native Americans from the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes, as well as education organizations and members of the public. The commission will run through April 4, 2016, though it can be extended or terminated by the governor.
“There’s definitely going to be some passionate individuals,” said Ernest House, Jr., executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. “This is an issue that a lot of communities are very connected to, and this is an issue also that American Indians are culturally connected to.”