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Bill seeks to ban Native American mascots in WA schools

Ivy Pete is a student at North Central High School in Spokane and a member of the Pyramid Lake-Paiute Tribe of northern Nevada.

Pete, 16 and a junior, is working to pass a bill to ban Native American mascots from public schools in Washington. She says such mascots do not actually honor individual tribes. Rather, they dehumanize Native Americans, erase the history of genocide and parody what indigenous people look like, Pete said this week.

Use of such mascots also presents an image of an extinct culture, rather than the thriving Native American culture of today, Pete said.

She noted that at North Central High, whose sports teams are called the Indians, students walk past two mannequins wearing Native American regalia.

“That represents a defeated and extinct native person,” Pete said earlier this week. “It makes me feel erased.”’

“The racism is not intentional, but really it does have to stop,” Pete said.

The bill was introduced by state Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, an Alaska Native who is Tlingit and Aleut.

State Rep. Debra Lekanoff
State Rep. Debra Lekanoff

“Native Americans are not animals,” Lekanoff said during a public hearing Friday on the bill before the House Education Committee. “They are people.”

House Bill 1356 seeks to ban Native American names, symbols and images for use as public school mascots, logos or team names, as of next Jan. 1. The ban does not apply to schools located within Native American areas. Washington state has 29 tribes.

The bill contends that the use of such names and symbols singles out Native Americans for derision and cultural appropriation. It fails to respect the cultural heritage of Native Americans or promote a productive relationship between governments.

The National Congress of American Indians says there are about 1,900 schools nationwide that continue to use tribal mascots. But there are only 31 in Washington state who do, Lekanoff said.

Lekanoff, who has worked to change the names of the professional football team in Washington, D.C., and the baseball team in Cleveland, said those changes at the professional sports level paved the way for making changes in other communities.

“This is a bill of respect,” said Lekanoff.

Moving the issue to the high school level is important for the self-esteem of Native American children, she said.

The days when it was acceptable to see a white student wearing Native American regalia and war paint, shouting and running around at a sporting event, are over, she said.

“We do not feel honored in any way," she said.

Republican State Rep. Joel McIntire wondered if there had been polling done to determine if some Native Americans supported the use of such mascots. Lekanoff said it was unlikely that every single Native American opposed the mascots, but that it was time for a change.

Several students, including non-Native Americans, spoke in support of the bill.

Bill Kallappa, a member of the State Board of Education and an educational liaison for the Nisqually Tribe, said the state board supported the bill.

“Let's get this bill passed so we can put mascots in our past," he said.