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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Tribal leaders say school mascot issue comes down to respect

When it comes to school mascots that refer to Indians or tribes, tribal leaders on the Idaho Indian Affairs Council said today that the key is respect. Bill Picard, vice chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Council, said Lewis Clark State College has the Warriors as its mascot, “and everything that they do is very respectful in their presentation of a warrior. They don’t have anything disrespectful in anything that they do during games or anything like that.” He added, “They always meet with the tribe and say, ‘Can we do this and give education to the public on the Nez Perce tribe?’”

He noted another area school whose mascot was the Sacajawea Savages. “After meeting with the tribe, the children, they voted to change it to Sacajawea Braves, and they changed their mural to make it look more respectful.” But at another school that had a “Savages” mascot, “The kids voted to change it but the adults in town came forward and reversed that decision.” Picard said, “I disagree with the mascot being Native American in the first place, but if it’s going to, be respectful, give honor to it and not disrespect.”

Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, said the mascots didn’t bother him when he was younger, but they do now that he’s a father. “I can live with some of these things like warriors and whatnot, but when the school is called savages, that’s in my eyes very offensive,” he said. He noted that Adidas has made an offer to schools that want to change their mascots to new ones that aren’t offensive to Native Americans to outfit them with uniforms and help in designing new logos. “If a big money corporation like that can take something like this on, I think we as a community can be supportive of our tribes in the state, and be respectful,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Gary Aitken Jr., chairman of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, said some names are more offensive than others. “For instance the ‘redskin’ name, the redskin essentially means a scalp,” he said. “It means proof or payment for killing somebody. There’s a lot of pain behind that. You’ve also got some like the Seminoles in Florida, they work with the tribe and they honor that name.” Aitken said, “I think it ultimately comes down to working with your community, getting good conversations together and trying to make change in that way.”

Devon Boyer, a council member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, said, “Shoshone-Bannock Tribes would echo the other tribes in all these matters.” He, too, appealed for respect. “If you’re not going to respect us, I guess you could keep it to yourself, but once you come out and you say something like the word ‘squaws’ or something like that, if you’re asking the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, you’re talking war when you bring words like that up.” He said, “We all want to be brave, we all want to be warriors in spirit, because that’s what we are, all of us are, regardless of where we come from in this world, but we all have to respect each other. ... Respecting each other is how we build great relationships and honor each other.”  

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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