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Sunday, April 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Nezperce discusses dropping schools’ ‘Indians’ mascot

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 10, 2020

By Kathy Hedberg Lewiston Tribune

NEZPERCE – While there remains some sentimentality in holding on to “Indians” as the Nezperce schools’ official mascot, a number of people think it’s time to relinquish the nickname and be “good neighbors” to the Idaho tribes that oppose it.

Jerry Elvin, one of six people who expressed opinions at a special Nezperce School Board meeting Thursday night, said this is not an issue isolated to Nezperce.

American Indians “have had stuff taken away from them” for years, Elvin said. While he does not believe the Indians nickname is offensive, “it’s good courtesy to drop the name and be done with it and that ends it right there.”

The issue, which has percolated in the community in the past, resurfaced after the Idaho State Board of Education received a letter last summer asking for a ban on American Indian-based mascots.

In 2014, the Nezperce district opted to stop using imagery of a chief with a full-feathered headdress as its logo after discussions with the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee. Only one of the schools’ uniforms has the word “Indians” on it, Superintendent Shawn Tiegs said.

This latest request was submitted by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in southeastern Idaho and asked the governor of Idaho and the Legislature “to take a stand and establish state policy to prohibit public schools from using American Indian-based mascots.”

A few people at Thursday’s meeting said it’s better for the school to drop the mascot on its own rather than be forced to do so later. And some of them offered alternative mascot names that could be adopted as a replacement.

“Let it go – not with hard feelings – but let’s spend our attention in more appropriate ways,” said Mark Thompson. “How much effort are we going to put into this thing?”

Thompson provided two alternate suggestions: “Nezperce Thunder” and “Nezperce Aggies.” He said he especially liked that second idea until one of his grandchildren told him the name made people in Nezperce sound like a bunch of hillbillies.

Other suggestions were the Nighthawks or the Shockers.

But a couple of speakers urged the school board to hang on to the Indians nickname and expressed resentment toward the tribes that want them to change.

“The tribe keeps pounding on us more and more,” Jim Miller said. “It has to stop some place. They will keep taking rights away from us.”

He and another man, Stan Boyer, also mentioned that if the tribes are successful at forcing the school to change its mascot name, they might also in the future insist that the town change its name.

Changing the Indian mascot, Boyer said, “could change the meaning of the name of ‘Nezperce.’ ”

But others said under the current circumstances students at the school cannot have fun with the Indian image, such as using it on a float or promenading it during an event like students do with mascots such as the Highland Huskies.

“Kids don’t have a way of expressing school pride when you can’t do anything with (the mascot),” Gina Jorgensen said.

“Have something the kids can have fun with,” said Rachelle Heartburg, “but keep the colors (blue and gold). Have something they can play around with.”

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