Politics

25 schools in Colorado still have Native American mascots. This week someone finally decided to make a change.

Colorado Spring – When Stephanie Jerome and her family moved a year ago to Colorado Springs, she took her daughter to the Cheyenne Mountain School District office to enroll her in fifth grade.

There they learned that the sports teams in the area’s secondary schools were called the Indians. So she enrolled her daughter in the Denver Public Schools online program instead of at school in her neighborhood in southwest Colorado Springs.

This week, Jerome and her daughter Janvey hugged, crying outside the county offices after the school board voted 4 to 1 to retire from the divisive mascot.

For them, this particular battle was relatively short, although Jerome has always been active in efforts to protect and preserve indigenous culture.

“You can’t be an activist when you’re a citizen,” said Jerome, who grew up on a reservation in North Dakota. “We should always talk.”

Several other people among the dozens of Native Americans who gathered in the cold parking lot outside during a school board meeting Monday night had been calling for such a change for decades. (Meeting attendance has been limited due to coronavirus restrictions; meetings are broadcast live and people can talk remotely.)

Stephanie Jerome hugs her 10-year-old daughter Janeviev after the Cheyenne Mountain School District in Colorado Springs voted to drop the “Indians” as the Cheyenne Mountain High School mascot. Jerome said she moved to the area a year ago, but decided not to enroll Janeviev in the neighborhood school when she found out the name of the mascot. She said Monday’s decision meant she would now enroll her daughter. (Mark Rees, for Colorado Sun)

“Most of us have been here protesting the mascot since we were teenagers,” said Monycka Snowbird of the Pikes Peak Alliance of Indigenous Women. “Now I’m bringing my grandson to these events. It’s 30 years or more for some of us.”

They represent their spotty triumphs by a decade: Palmer High School Terrors have changed their Eaglebeak spell from a cartoon of an Indian to a true ’80s eagle; In 1995, the University of Southern Colorado changed the mascot of the Indians to ThunderHawks.

And there are still 24 schools in Colorado from kindergarten through high school with original mascots

Now, though, supporters of her change are backed by two things: the expansion of the social justice movement that sparked the Black Lives Matter protests a year ago, and A bill was introduced last month in the Colorado Senate It would fine schools of $ 25,000 a month that refuse to give away degrading American Indian symbols. Senate Peel 116 is expected to hold its first hearing before the Senate Education Committee on April 1, the senator said. Jesse Danielson, a Wheat Ridge Democrat and one of the main sponsors of the bill.

Danielson said two things led her to introduce the bill: last year’s nationwide demands for social justice; And the fact that in Five years on the Governor’s Commission He recommended removing Native American mascots at 25 schools, only two – until Cheyenne Mountain worked this week – have done so.

The Thompson School District voted in September to eliminate the Loveland High School Indian mascot and the Warriors mascot at Bill Reed Middle School.

“I think we have to take action to end these spells,” Danielson said. Schools with original mascots will have until June 1, 2022 to replace them. A similar procedure failed In the legislature in 2015.

As pressure for change increased, some regions attempted to establish relationships with indigenous tribes and obtain “permission” to keep a fortune amulet. Danielson said she is aware of these efforts and is working closely with the tribes on how her bill will affect such relationships.

For example, the northern region of Arapahoe has collaborated for years with high schools in Arapahoe and Strasbourg on curricula and cultural exchanges with the realization that schools will keep their Indian mascots.

At the alumni request, tribal representatives met Monday with Cheyenne Mountain Director Walt Cooper about establishing a relationship regardless of how the board of directors voted on the mascot issue.

Proponents of the change agree that financial pressure, such as the fine proposed in Danielson’s bill, is effective. Washington Redskins in July became the Washington soccer team after just 12 days of investor pressure on Nike, Pepsi and FedEx to end their sponsorship of the team.

“The bill has a language that people understand,” said artist Greg Dale, who has been on the front lines of the fighting in Washington, DC for 17 years and who turned his attention to Colorado when he moved to El Paso County five years ago. “Money is the first language that many understand.”

Gregg Dale plays the drum on Monday outside the office of Cheyenne Mountain School 12 in Colorado Springs. (Mark Rees, for Colorado Sun)

The struggle to retain the amulets of American Indians is usually led by alumni who say their schools have chosen them to honor and preserve the memory of the tribes. They mean disrespect, they say, and the amulets are a source of pride for the school and the community.

Dell said it’s hard to convince mascot advocates that the symbols promote racial stereotypes and harm not only indigenous people, but others who carry these stereotypes into adulthood.

“When you say the amulet is inappropriate or racist, you are telling the people who want to keep it that they are inappropriate or racist,” Dell said. And they dig their heels.

“It’s often a matter of pride,” he said. “Nobody wants to be told they are wrong.”

It’s hard to argue that the amulet is a show of respect when non-indigenous students are shown at sporting events wearing headdresses and war paint and supporters of the opposing team shout things like “the scalp of the Indians,” say supporters of the removal of the mascot.

In fact, girls on Cheyenne Mountain wore local costumes and had their faces painted red to dance at games in the 1960s, a time when Aborigines were forbidden by law from wearing some uniforms or performing some ceremonies, as Big Wood Riley said, 2007 Cheyenne Mountain Grad. This ban was not repealed until Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978.

Paige Wood Riley, who graduated from Cheyenne Mountain High School in 2007, smiles after the school board voted to drop “Indians” as the name for the school’s team. (Mark Rees, for Colorado Sun)

At a meeting on Monday, Superintendent Cooper told the board that when the district forbade students from wearing local clothing and doing tomahawk cuts at games, he heard complaints that it was no longer fun.

“This has become a very contentious and very controversial issue in our society,” he told the board of directors Monday, noting that he had heard from families whose parents are graduates who want to keep the amulet and their children, and they are students in the district who want to change it.

The board decision indicated that there was no consensus on this issue among graduates, students, or the community, and called for the establishment of a new center. A committee to consider the role of the mascot And choosing a new school for Cheyenne Mountain High School by the beginning of the school year 22-2021.

Their decision was based on evidence of harm from some of the amulets as cited by mental health organizations and the US Civil Rights Committee, and requests from sovereign tribes.

There is a lot of evidence, gathered over decades, that Native American mascots are harmful. Studies show that it contributes to low self-esteem among indigenous students and reinforces stereotypes among non-citizens, among other things.

That’s the kind of information Riley collected when she returned to Colorado Springs last year and created a group of alumni to push for a change of the mascot.

In August, her group presented a dossier filled with educational information, citations for studies and letters from Amerindian tribes and business councils requesting the removal of all original symbols and amulets. Made later More electronically.

Education is also a tactic of a Lamar alumni group that wants to see the school abandon its amulet for the barbarians.

Jacob Reed, a 2012 Lamar graduate who lives in Austin, Texas, said: Lamar proud The group trying to change the mascot has gained steady support over the past year. It has raised local voices that have long been ignored in the fighting.

“More and more people are realizing that this is a racist mascot,” he said. “I didn’t expect to do this. I asked this question to Indigenous people along the way: Is this something that we need to address? The answer is always yes. It’s systematic racism. If we can’t organize and change a spell, how can we solve the bigger problems?”

Daniel C. Walker, chair of the Denver US-India Commission, agrees.

She said that today’s amulets are linked to all the bigger issues, such as colonialism and cultural genocide. Most people know little about Native American history and often cannot understand the arguments advanced against the offending amulets.

“People caught in this issue, who believe that these amulets are a sign of respect, need to educate themselves about the topic and understand it from an indigenous perspective,” she said. “White privilege is a real thing.”

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