EDITORIAL: Time to use the Legislature to end Native American school mascot slurs

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial ran in December when Rep. Joe Salazar first proposed legislation being heard at the state Capitol in March. Here’s a link to House Bill 1165: http://bit.ly/1CfwQRo

It’s difficult to determine what’s more surreal about state Rep. Joe Salazar’s proposal to force Colorado high schools to stop using names and mascots offensive to Native Americans: that we have to pass laws to get these schools to give up their insensitive bigotry, or that there’s actually opposition to Salazar’s proposal.

The “Lamar High School Savages?” The “La Vita Redskins”? Still? It’s mind boggling that even decades ago modern, contemplative sensibilities wouldn’t first compel the schools themselves to stop insulting and demeaning Native Americans with these flagrant slurs. But it’s just as appalling that state lawmakers would wait so long to take action against government sponsored bigotry and racism.

The mascot of the Eaton High School Reds. A Colorado state lawmaker says he will sponsor a bill forcing such images and names to be changed because many Native Americans find them degrading
The mascot of the Eaton High School Reds. A Colorado state lawmaker says he will sponsor a bill forcing such images and names to be changed because many Native Americans find them degrading

Consider this. If a teacher at any Colorado school were to call a Native American student a “redskin” or a “savage,” they would be out of a job before some other bigot trying to defend them could draw a first breath. It is unthinkable that even in the rural wilds of Lamar or Eaton  that people there would not know that Native Americans are among the most abused, marginalized, mistreated culture and race in American history, and that these pejorative slurs only continue to trivialize them as humans and Americans. The site of the infamous Sand Creek Massacre, one of the most shameful events in U.S. history, is in the backyard of the Lamar, “Savages.”

Salazar’s proposal, there isn’t even a bill yet, would create a list of all the public-school mascots from around the state that are either blatant or potential slurs on Native Americans and force them to either, stop, get permission from the tribe they offend, or lose state funding. There are 48 of them. That’s a lot of options and leeway for a state-funded institution that would be in federal court fast if they treated non-Native American students and community members in the same way. Critics have heaped huge doses of hate on Salazar, complaining that this should hardly take up the time of the state legislature because it’s “only” a public school mascot, and a source of local pride and history. Pride? Pride in slurring someone’s race and culture?

“Do you really believe that schools are being derogatory because of their mascot name?” one woman said who emailed Salazar. The message was reprinted in September at  indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com. “ If that is the case, then we shouldn’t use animal names, cowboys, colors foods or anything as peoples feelings might be hurt. I mean, I love the color green so don’t use it because it offensive to me. Mascot names have been around for many years, probably before you were born, and because one person gets upset, it’s all over. ”

Salazar and others say the letter is typical, trivializing the slurs and going so far as to equate American Indians to animals, colors or foods.

These schools and communities may be proud of their students and athletes, but it’s sick to think that anyone would be proud to inflict institutionalized bigotry and hatred on anyone, let alone a group of Americans that have been treated so shabbily for hundreds of years.

It’s unclear how some school community of arrogant, insensitive holdouts would find a Native American tribe that would “approve” of the use of a school mascot called, the “Indians,” there are 17 Colorado high schools that use the mascot, or the “Reds.” Perhaps more attention to bill will compel these schools to honor their mascot namesakes by ending their ignorance or apathy and volunteering to cease using their blatant bigotry and slander. If not, we heartily support Salazar’s effort to force these schools to end their embarrassing hate in the name of school athletics.