Senate Republicans Kill Native American Mascot Bill

Statues celebrating the Lamar Savages, located on Savage Avenue, the road to the high school. Additional images, a video and more below.
Statues celebrating the Lamar Savages, located on Savage Avenue, the road to the high school. Additional images, a video and more below.
Google Maps

Update: In March, we told you about a bill that would have created a committee to determine if Native American mascots at schools were offensive and instituted a $25,000 per month fine against those that refused to abandon ones that failed to pass the test. See our previous coverage below.

However, the legislation will not become law.

Earlier this month, HB 15-1165, sponsored by Representative Joe Salazar, was approved by the state House by a 33-32 vote. Every Democrat save one voted in favor of the measure, while all 32 Republicans responded with nays.

This didn't bode well for the proposal's chances in the Republican-controlled Senate, and that's the way it worked out. Last night, a Senate committee rejected HB 15-1165 by a 3-2 margin that followed the party line: Two Democrats supported it, three Republicans didn't.

Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia.
Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia.
Photo by Johnny Molfetta

The outcome disappointed Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia, who chairs the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. Along with Chairman Manuel Heart of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Chairman Clement Frost, representing the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Garcia issued a joint statement about the bill's demise. It reads:

“Last night, HB15-1165 ‘Schools’ Use of American Indian Mascots’ bill failed in the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee on a party line vote. We would like to thank Representatives Salazar and Melton and Senator Ulibarri for bringing this legislation forward and, by doing so, providing a forum for an important conversation about the manner in which images and symbols are viewed depending on one’s individual historical and cultural perspective.

"For centuries, American Indian peoples have called Colorado home. From Cortez to Sterling and Trinidad to Craig, numerous tribal nations hunted, gathered, and lived in areas from which, over time, most were removed and forced onto reservations, stripped of their land, language and culture, and, too often, even their lives.

"HB 1165 sparked an important conversation in the Legislature about the use of outdated names and offensive caricatures of American Indian people in many of Colorado's schools. While issues like local control and financial constraints prevailed, it is our hope that this discussion has encouraged communities to have an open and honest dialogue about this issue. Institutions which strive to teach respect and dignity to our next generation should recognize that displays of American Indian warpaint, headdresses and tomahawk chants may be offensive to tribal nations and Native people. Intentionally or not, they often degrade the proud and ongoing legacy of American Indians in Colorado and everywhere throughout the nation.

"Last December, when Governor Hickenlooper apologized to the descendants of the tribes that suffered the atrocity of the Sand Creek Massacre, and a month later, when he gave his State of the State, he said healing begins with an apology. It also takes dialogue and a recognition that we view certain symbols, images and words through our respective historical and cultural perspectives. As we move forward, it is our hope that the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs will be utilized as a resource to help facilitate that dialogue by connecting schools and communities with Tribes that once called these places home, and may do so still today."

As we noted below, a similar attempt to eliminate offensive Native American school mascots came up short five years ago. The closeness of the 2015 vote suggests the legislation is likely to be introduced again down the line — although its odds of success are likely dependent on whether Democrats are in charge in the senate, the house and the governor's mansion.

Continue for our previous coverage.

Original post, 10:48 a.m. March 24: If Colorado schools want to retain offensive Native American mascots, it could cost them $25,000 per month under a new bill passed last night by the Colorado House of Representatives' education committee.

The mascot of Arapahoe High School. Additional images and more below.
The mascot of Arapahoe High School. Additional images and more below.
CBS4

House Bill 15-1165 is sponsored by Representative Joe Salazar, a Thornton Democrat. We've included the entire document below, but here's an excerpt from the legislation's summary section.

The bill requires each public school that uses an American Indian mascot to either cease using the mascot or request approval for the continued use of the mascot or another American Indian mascot from the subcommittee. If a public school receives notice from the subcommittee that the school's use of an American Indian mascot has been disapproved, the public school shall cease using the mascot on or before the date years following such notice.

For each month in which a public school uses an unapproved American Indian mascot after such date, a fine of $25,000 shall be paid to the state treasurer by:

• The school district of the offending public school;
• The state charter school institute if the offending school is an institute charter school; or
• The public school itself if the public school is a public institution of higher education.

The bill creates the American Indian mascot fund (fund). A public school whose mascot is disapproved by the subcommittee may apply for a grant of moneys from the fund to pay for new uniforms, new decor, new letterhead, and such other modifications as are necessitated by the public school's change of mascot.

This is hardly a new issue in Colorado, where Native American organizations have decried mascots they see as offensive for many years.

One of the more memorable efforts to draw attention to the subject came in 2002, when an intramural team at the University of Northern Colorado that included Native Americans (as well as Latinos and Caucasians) dubbed themselves the Fightin' Whities — and came up with this logo:

Senate Republicans Kill Native American Mascot Bill
File photo

Yet Native American mascots remain prevalent, as evidenced by the following collage put together earlier this year by CPR.org.

By the way, the mascots in question represent the Lamar Savages, the Eaton Reds and the Frederick Warriors (clockwise from upper left).

Such mascots are also commonplace across the country at all levels of sports — and the debate over whether that's acceptable in the 21st Century was invigorated in recent years by the pressure placed on the owners of the Washington Redskins to change the team's name.

Here's a public-service announcement released around the time of 2014 Super Bowl by the National Congress of American Indians that advocates for a switch.

There's no telling at this point whether broader conversations about Native American mascots will provide enough local momentum for Salazar's bill to pass.

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As 9News points out, a similar measure was introduced in Colorado five years ago only to be withdrawn.

This time around, the House may be friendlier to the measure, since Democrats represent a majority in the chamber.

The Republican-controlled Senate is likely to provide more serious obstacles, particularly given the expenses that would be associated with forming a committee and providing funding for schools told to make the switch or pony up.

At the very least, however, Salazar's legislation has re-started the conversation and may provide the impetus for schools with mascots like these to seriously consider what kind of message they're sending to their students, no matter their background.

Here's a report about the bill from KRDO-TV broadcast prior to the education committee's vote, followed by the document itself.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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