Panel: Colo. schools should drop Indian mascots

Posted at 9:01 PM, Apr 18, 2016

Eliminate them or make a change. That's the official recommendation to Colorado schools who have American Indian mascots.

The Commission to Study American Indian Representation in Public Schools released its final report to Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday.

“This Commission has charted a path forward for Colorado with a willingness to work together through conversation and collaboration,” said Hickenlooper. “We are grateful to everyone who participated in this process. Their hard work gives us all a better understanding of each other and the complexities of this issue.”

Representatives from federally recognized tribes, Colorado’s American Indian population, institutions of public education, state agencies, and community stakeholders made up the 15-member commission.

The Commission was created by the governor in 2015 through executive order.

After five months of community meetings in Strasburg, Lamar, Loveland and Eaton, the Commission established four guiding principles that can be taken on by local communities, educational institutions, state agencies and organizations. The four guiding principles outlined in the report include:

1) Eliminating derogatory mascots, imagery and names.

2) Tribal sovereignty to enter partnerships with individual schools to design new logos.

3) Districts maintain local control. They can choose to do nothing, but should work on community engagement toward a change.

4) A strong educational focus and outreach.

The Strasburg High Indians have perhaps been the model in paving the way for community outreach to local tribes.

"The Northern Arapaho tribe has just been amazing to us,” said Strasburg senior student Lindsey Nichols, who spearheaded the community movement toward making a change to its logo and mascot. “They've started a great friendship with us."

While some Colorado schools with Native American mascots have balked at making changes, Strasburg has fielded the issue with little resistance.

"If we're the Indians, what does that come from?” said Strasburg High principal, Jeff Rasp. “What's our history? What's our culture? Why are we called this?"

Nichols and others having been working with the Northern Arapaho tribe in Wyoming to launch a new logo for Strasburg High beginning next year.

"It's more authentic. It's representative of the Arapaho culture,” said Nichols. “I'm just excited to see what the future has for the Northern Arapaho and Strasburg."

"If mascots are derogatory or offensive, we the commission feel like - they need to be eliminated or change," said Rasp.

However, for now, there are no mandates.

Strasburg is taking it a step further, even hosting its first pow wow with the Northern Arapaho tribe this Friday at the school.

“Just trying to establish and get a cooperation and a partnership with that tribe,” said Rasp. “This is the right thing to do.”

Currently, 37 schools in Colorado feature a variation of an American Indian mascot, name or logo. Twenty of those are high schools.

“Since I was little, I used to watch all kinds of documentaries,” said Nichols. “I would read books on Native American culture. It’s just fascinating to me and I was happy to reach out to tribal representatives. It’s been an amazing experience for my senior year.”