DENVER — Colorado lawmakers are considering a proposal that would ban Native American mascots in public schools and colleges amid a nationwide push for racial justice that gained new momentum last year following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the NFL team in Washington changing its name.
The measure that the state Senate Education Committee is scheduled to discuss Thursday would include a $25,000 monthly fine on public schools, colleges and universities that use an American Indian-themed mascots after June 1, 2022.
Colorado is one of seven states considering legislation that would prohibit the use of Native American mascots, according the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 2019, Maine became the first state to ban the use of such mascots.
Nearly two dozen schools in Colorado still use Native American mascots such as the “Warriors,” “Reds” and “Savages,” according to Democratic state Sen. Jessie Danielson, one of the bill’s sponsors. Two prominent high schools dropped their “Indians” mascot in the last year: Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs and Loveland High School in a city in northern Colorado.
The use of American Indian mascots, according to the legislation, “creates an unsafe learning environment” for Indigenous students by “promoting bullying” and teaches other students that “it is acceptable to participate in culturally abusive and prejudicial behaviors.”
The push to remove mascots with Native American imagery began during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, according to the National Congress of American Indians, a nonprofit established in 1944 to protect Native American and Alaska Native rights.
The movement gained little attention until 2005 when the National Collegiate Athletic Association directed schools to end the use of “hostile or abusive” mascots and imagery in college-level sports. In later years, the conversation spread to the multibillion-dollar industry of the NFL.
After years of pressure and a federal ruling, the NFL team in Washington decided to drop the Redskins name last July and become the “Washington Football Team.”
More than 1,900 schools across the U.S. had American Indian-themed mascots as of last week, according to a database kept by the National Congress of American Indians.
In 2020, there were 68 schools in Utah, Ohio, Michigan, Idaho, New York, Massachusetts and California that scrapped American Indian-themed mascots, the database shows.
Proposed name changes often draw pushback because getting rid of a mascot means new uniforms, signs on fields and imagery on merchandise.
Measures in Washington state and Illinois would allow the use if a nearby tribes approve a request made by the school, something Oregon has already passed. In addition to obtaining written consent, Illinois’ bill also adds exemptions for schools that conduct yearly schoolwide programs on Native American culture and offer courses on “Native American contributions to society.”
California prohibits public schools from using “Redskins” as a nickname or mascot.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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