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Oregon high schools keep American Indian mascot names

OAKRIDGE, Ore. -- Efforts to change American Indian mascot names at Oregon high schools has stalled, more than two years after a state advisory group suggested a ban on them.

All 15 Oregon high schools with team names such as the Warriors, the Braves or the Indians are still using them.

Susan Castillo, the state school superintendent, had planned to reconvene the Native American Mascot Advisory Committee to finalize its report and make a recommendation.

But the committee has not been reconvened, and Castillo has made no recommendation.

"We continue to solicit input, in particular from Oregon's tribal nations, but that process has been a slow one, and we don't anticipate any immediate action in this area at this point," said Oregon Department of Education spokesman Jake Weigler.

An outcry from rural communities devoted to their mascots stalled the effort, along with a mixed and, in some cases, muted response from Oregon tribes, he said.

"In reality, there was not clear consensus on how to proceed," Weigler said.

Advocates of change have said the mascots perpetuate stereotypes and symbolize institutionalized racism. Such mascots have the potential to embarrass and create a hostile learning environment for American Indian students, they said.

"I don't believe there were bad intentions at the start," said American Indian educator Brenda Brainard. "But hanging on to it? That kind of feels like bad intentions. Sixty years later, we know better."

Brainard, who runs the Eugene School District's NATIVES Indian Education program, is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw.

When the controversy heated up in 2007, she took the issue to her tribal leaders but found that a majority did not share her sense of urgency.

The state education department has yet to receive a single formal response on the issue from any of Oregon's nine federally recognized tribes, Weigler said.

Roseburg High School's mascot is an Indian, but that doesn't bother the Roseburg-based Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians.

"We've had very good relations with the (Roseburg) community, you know, and I don't think we ever took it as demeaning," said Sue Shaffer, longtime tribal chairwoman of the Cow Creek Band. "We see it as kind of more like a recognition, in a way. So Cow Creek never got involved in this."

In contrast, the opposition from residents in rural communities that stood to lose time-honored mascots -- superintendents, school board members, students, parents -- was strong.

To many residents of Oakridge, the high school's Warriors mascot evokes the best in sportsmanship. They call it "Warrior spirit," said Don Kordosky, district superintendent and high school and junior high principal.

"They feel that it's done in a very respectful and dignified way," he said, summing up the sentiment he's heard from students, staff and community members alike including a handful of American Indians.

Brainard, who has worked with American Indian students throughout the area for years, said she's heard a different message from those who have attended schools with Indian mascots.

"The students despised it, across the board," she said. "They despised it, they were embarrassed by it, they wanted it changed."