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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Bill to prohibit public schools’ use of Native names, symbols as mascots passes state House

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 24, 2021

A play from the Reardan High School Indians is pictured in this March 3, 2012 file photo. The district would have to change its name under a new state proposal to bar schools from using Native American references for their mascots.   (JESSE TINSLEY)
A play from the Reardan High School Indians is pictured in this March 3, 2012 file photo. The district would have to change its name under a new state proposal to bar schools from using Native American references for their mascots.  (JESSE TINSLEY)

OLYMPIA – A bill that would prohibit public schools from using Native American names, symbols or images as mascots or logos passed the state House of Representatives.

The bill, which passed 92-5, now heads to the Senate for further consideration. If it passes, public schools would have to change their mascot, logo or team name beginning Jan. 1, 2022. It does not apply to school names.

“Native Americans are Americans,” Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, said. “We are not animals. We are not those you make a mockery of.”

The bill exempts some public schools if they are located on tribal land or in a county adjacent to tribal land, or if the school has consulted with the tribe to determine the best use of the name, symbol or image. In committee, Eric Sobotta, superintendent of Reardan-Edwall School District, asked committee members to consider allowing districts adjacent to tribal land to be exempted from the bill.

The district is currently working with the Spokane Tribe of Indians to find ways to implement Salish and make other changes to its K-12 curriculum. The district’s current mascot is the Indians, and Sobotta said he wants to work with the tribe to discuss their mascot, which he said is “grounded in respect and a source of pride for Native American students.”

Lekanoff praised the Spokane Tribe for working with schools and teams, such as the Spokane Indians baseball team and the Spokane Chiefs hockey team, to find a respectful way to use Native American names and symbols. The Indians currently have a uniform in Salish and honor tribal culture throughout their stadium.

Rep. Mike Volz, R-Spokane, said the issue was addressed “in a very positive manner” in the city.

“The outcome was right,” he said. “It was always done with honor and pride.”

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction estimates that more than 30 high schools currently use Native American names or symbols for their mascot or team name. These schools would be required to bear the fiscal impact of the bill, having to replace uniforms, equipment, signage, letterheads and supplies.

The bill does allow for a phased-in approach for school districts that may need to change their name, giving them some time to purchase all of the new materials.

Spokane-area students and school leaders testified in favor of the bill while it was in committee.

Ivy Pete, a junior at North Central High School, said the bill would begin to mend the broken relationships between tribes and school districts. North Central’s mascot, currently the Indians, would change if this bill passed.

“The picture we paint of these mascots is not of a real human, group of humans or culture,” Pete said. “It is a selection of preconceived notions and ideas that must be set straight.”

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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