Nespelem Elementary/Middle School, in the heart of the Colville Indian Reservation, is one of several schools whose mascots the tribal council wants changed.
The school, whose students are almost all Native Americans, uses an Indian likeness for its logo and calls itself the Savages.
Many people in the community defend the name as a decades-old tradition handed down from Nespelem High School, which closed in the late 1950s.
But the tribal council passed a resolution earlier this year asking schools throughout the Colville tribe’s traditional territory to abandon names that stereotype or denigrate Indians. The resolution lists “Savages” as an example of offensive mascots.
Although the tribal government has its capital at Nespelem, the Colville School District was the first to be confronted.
Tribal representatives last week asked the school board to change Indian mascots that include the Colville High School Indians, the Fort Colville Middle School Chiefs and the Colville Junior High Warriors. The junior high nickname was Savages until about five years ago.
Allan Robinson, the Nespelem superintendent and principal, said he also would like to change Savages to Warriors or something more flattering. However, he said school district patrons have repeatedly rejected any change.
Among the defenders of the Savages nickname is tribal Councilman Deb Louie, who represents the Nespelem District and is a Nespelem High graduate. He was the dissenter in the 9-1 vote on the resolution calling for new names.
Louie was not available for comment.
Robinson said the Nespelem Savages name was discussed in a public meeting two years ago when the state superintendent of public instruction asked all school districts to review potentially offensive mascots.
Nespelem residents cited years of tradition, and said they resented outsiders meddling with the school nickname.
“Dictionaries came out and people found some positive things about being Savages,” Robinson recalled.
He said he thinks the school board is willing to revisit the issue. There has been some talk of that, Robinson said, but so far no formal request.
“I believe we need to be consistent,” said tribal Councilman Jerry Stensgar, one of two who presented the resolution to the Colville School Board.
But Stensgar represents the Inchelium District, and isn’t sure how the idea will play in Nespelem.
“I don’t think we’re trying to force anything on anyone, but just giving them a chance to consider a positive self-esteem model for the kids,” he said.
Tribal Councilwoman Doll Watt, of the Omak District, said she finds the Nespelem Savages nickname “just a classic example of a stereotypical mascot.” It makes no difference that the name is chosen by Indians, she said.
“I would think Nespelem would take it even more seriously because they have a majority of Native American students,” Watt said. “I think they would be the first to look at the tribal resolution and respect it.”
Watt said she thinks names like Warriors or Chiefs - the mascot of the private Paschal Sherman Indian School near Omak - are fine if used respectfully by reservation schools.
Paschal Sherman Principal Dorothy Marchand used to teach at the Nespelem school. She thinks many people in Nespelem shared her view that being Savages was just a way of saying, “Our team is going to be the toughest.”
Noting that the tribal resolution also targets geographic names, including Squaw Mountain near Nespelem, Marchand cautioned against hastily rewriting history. “These names that we have here, maybe our ancestors named them that and they must have had a reason,” Marchand said. “Maybe it’s not so bad.”
Marchand said she thinks Colville High School has treated its Indians mascot with respect.
She said she wears one of the school’s Indian-logo T-shirts to pow wows.
“I feel honored if they want to use it,” Marchand said.
Disrespectful uses are another matter, she added.
“The one that really makes me mad is the Atlanta Braves when they do the tomahawk chop,” Marchand said. “That really offends me.”
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