State wants no Native American mascots; schools shrug

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 29, 2012 

Jeff Pietila said his school's mascot, a Native American wearing a headdress, hasn't ever been an issue he's had to deal with.

The principal of Wahluke High School, home of the Warriors, said he and other school officials have met with leaders in the Native American community and no concerns ever have been voiced.

For the first time since 1993, the Washington Board of Education is encouraging school districts to abandon any Native American-themed mascots their schools may have.

"The state board is committed to policies that promote an academic climate where each student feels safe, respected, and ready to learn, and ... inflammatory mascots are countercurrent to the board's vision for an excellent and equitable education for all students," according to the board's official resolution.

Kamiakin High, which is named after a historically prominent Yakama Nation leader, worked with the Yakamas to determine what mascot to use when the school opened in 1970. The school rarely has heard complaints about its use of the Braves for its sports teams.

"We're very proud of our heritage. We're proud of our mascot," said Lorraine Cooper, spokeswoman for the Kennewick School District.

The topic has come up a few times during the years at Kamiakin High, said former athletic director Don Schumacher, but there never was a serious push to change it.

He compared it to the issues Richland High has had through the years with its controversial Bombers mascot and mushroom cloud logo.

"There has been mention of (changing it)," Schumacher said. "Like get rid of the bomb in the Bombers. Those were two things that went together -- the Bomber and the Brave."

Kamiakin and Wahluke high schools are among 32 schools in the state that have Native American-themed mascots, but neither school officials nor tribal leaders appear to be pursuing any concerns about them.

"We don't have a formal position on it," said Deb Croswell, public relations for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The state board was meeting in Walla Walla when it made its decision. Board spokesman Aaron Wyatt said the decision stemmed from presentations made to the board in May urging it to again ask schools to drop mascots reminiscent of tribal origins.

"There were a couple of speakers who said this is continuing to damage kids," Wyatt said.

The decision of the Oregon Board of Education to ban such mascots this year, giving schools five years to comply, also fed into the resolution, he said.

Washington's most common mascot is the Warrior, which represents 11 schools. Eight have Indians, including Touchet High, and four have Braves.

But the mascots don't appear to be much of an issue to local Native American groups and tribes. Croswell said the Umatilla tribes have been too busy dealing with other important issues for tribal members to dedicate time to questioning whether Native American-themed mascots are offensive or discriminatory.

Wahluke's Pietila and Kennewick's Cooper said they'd hope people concerned about the mascots would come forward, but so far no one has.

"If the Yakama Nation were ever to contact us with a concern, we certainly would consider their wishes," Cooper said.

Yakama leaders could not be reached for comment.

Unlike the decision by Oregon education officials, the state board is encouraging districts to remove the mascots. There are no consequences for schools that retain them.

And it might make sense for some schools to have them: A number of Washington schools with Native American-themed mascots are on tribal reservations. Wyatt said that is why it should be up to school boards to decide whether a mascot is appropriate.

"We just hope that whatever decision is made is in the best interest of education and of children," he said.

w Sports reporter Craig Craker contributed to this report.

Washington private, public high schools with Native American-themed mascots:

Almira/Coulee-Hartline Warriors

Bethel (Spanaway) Braves

Bishop Blanchet (Seattle) Braves

Cheney Blackhawks

Chief Leschi (Puyallup) Warriors

Cle Elum-Roslyn Warriors

Clover Park (Lakewood) Warriors

Columbia River (Vancouver) Chieftains

Colville Indians

Crosspoint Academy (Bremerton) Warriors

Edmonds-Woodway Warriors

Jubilee Christian Academy Warriors

Kamiakin (Kennewick) Braves

La Conner Braves

Lummi Blackhawks

Marysville-Pilchuck Tomahawks

Moses Lake Chiefs

North Central (Spokane) Indians

Port Townsend Redskins

Reardan Indians

Renton Indians

Rochester Warriors

Sammamish (Bellevue) Totems

Seattle Christian Warriors

South Bend Indians

St. Michael's (Spokane) Warriors

Toledo Indians

Touchet Indians

Tyee (SeaTac) Totems

Wahluke (Mattawa) Warriors

Wellpinit Redskins

Wishram Indians

-- Compiled by the Herald staff

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