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Idaho Native Americans blast ‘offensive’ school mascots

William L. Spence Lewiston Tribune

BOISE – Indian-themed school mascot names may be intended to honor American Indians, but for many tribal members they’re often unwanted reminders of a painful historical period.

The issue came up during an Idaho Council on Indian Affairs meeting Friday.

Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chairman Silas Whitman, who co-chairs the council, discussed recent efforts to change the name of the Sacajawea Junior High Braves and the Nezperce High Indians.

“We’re looking at how they view, in caricature form, their mascot names,” he said. “What’s really been offensive to Native people is a mural in the foyer (of Sacajawea Junior High) that depicts a brave holding a bloody scalp. … That was done as a school project. Students pass by several times a day. We’re trying to get them to realize the humanity of what this is all about.”

Whitman’s comments sparked emotional responses from other council members.

“People do it to honor us, they say, but really it’s very misguided,” Kootenai Tribal Council member Gary Aikens Jr. said. “They don’t recognize the pain it causes, the disrespect that’s shown. The pain is generations deep. We’re still feeling the effects of atrocities committed a hundred years ago. All of us are carrying generations of pain. We’re still walking with that.

“When we speak out on this, the struggle has been trivialized. People say, ‘Get over it, we’re just honoring you.’ But I don’t think they realize the effect it has when we see this type of thing,” he said. “It’s not honoring us.”

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes have been trying for decades to get schools in eastern Idaho to change their mascot names, Tribal Business Center Director Nathan Small said.

Dennis Smith, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, goes to basketball games or parades and sees young kids wearing black wigs and war paint.

“You sit there in the stand and all you can do is hang your head because it’s so disrespectful,” Smith said.

Whitman said the Nez Perce Tribe is looking at various ways to address this issue, ranging from public relations to working with educators or possibly a future legislative fix.

Mostly, though, they’re asking schools to show some respect.

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