Colorado advances bill limiting Native American mascots

The Canadian Press
DENVER – A proposal debated Monday by lawmakers about the use of Native American mascots by Colorado schools prompted a tense moment about using slurs for other groups of people as team names.

To make a point of how offensive mascot monikers such as “redskins” can be, the sponsors of a bill limiting the use of such names began their presentation to the House Education Committee with a slideshow, playing on a loop, with caricatures bearing offensive names for Hispanic, Asian, and black people.

“We wouldn’t tolerate these images now, would we?” said Rep. Joe Salazar, a Thornton Democrat who is co-sponsoring the bill.

The images drew a strong reaction from Rep. Rhonda Fields, a black lawmaker on the committee who supports the bill. She said the slideshow was offensive and should be stopped because the sponsors had made their point.

“Rep. Fields, I’m just as offended by it, and I think that’s the point,” said Rep. Jovan Melton, who is also black. “The point is there’s students who have to go every single day to school and see ‘savages’ or ‘redskins’ or to see some type image that degrades them.”

The bill cleared the committee – its first – with a 6-5 party-line vote with Republicans in opposition. It needs passage by one more panel before going to the full House.

The bill would require public schools with American Indian mascots or logos to get permission for their use from a panel of nine Native Americans.

Only schools that get approval would be allowed to continue using the mascots. Schools that don’t get permission would have to stop the use within two years or face a fine of $25,000 a month.

Opponents of the bill have argued that it would be cost prohibitive for schools to redo logos on uniforms, buses and gym floors. They also argue that it’s not their intent to offend, and that for some schools the names are a source of pride.

The bill would create a new state panel called the Subcommittee for the Consideration of the Use of American Indian Mascots by Public Schools. The voting members would review mascot names and decide whether the mascots are offensive.

Rep. Justin Everett said the proposal would be “another burden on school districts.”

“Especially the rural school districts who are going to come testify in front of the committee, basically sing for their supper so they’re not losing $25,000,” he said.

John Sampson, a board member of the Strasburg School District, home of the Indians, said they have pride and respect in the name.

“Contrary to what has been suggested here today, we do not in any way, shape, form or manner hold American Indians, their culture, their heritage or their values in disrespect,” he said.

The movement to ban the use of Native American mascots has gotten greater public attention because of the push to get the NFL’s Washington Redskins to change the name of the team.

At the college level, the NCAA warned more than a dozen schools in 2005 that they would face sanctions if they didn’t change Native American logos or nicknames. Some colleges kept the nicknames by obtaining permission from tribes, including the Florida State Seminoles and the University of Utah Utes.

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