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Colorado Commission Advises Against Native American Mascots

By guest blogger Sam Milton

The ongoing debate in Colorado over the use of mascots and imagery considered offensive to Native Americans has reemerged, and now a panel appointed by the governor to study the issue is recommending public schools take steps toward uprooting the tradition of American Indian depictions in sports programs.

In a report released Monday by the Commission to Study American Indian Representation in Public Schools, the group recommends the elimination of all disparaging and offensive mascots in the state's public schools.

Last October, Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper formed the commission, which was made up of students, school officials, tribal leaders, and American Indian advocates. As part of its work, the commission visited four local high schools currently using Native American mascots.

One of the high schools represents an early success story for the commission. Students and staff from Strasburg High School have reportedly already met with North Arapahoe Indians from Wyoming in an attempt to agree upon a more respectful and realistic mascot design.

"There's no place for stereotypical images of Native Americans in any of our schools," Strasburg High School Principal Jeff Rasp told CBS4 in Denver Tuesday. "It sends the wrong message about respect for other cultures."

The issue continues to gain momentum over the past year. In October, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill barring any public high school in California from using "Redskins" as a mascot. Pressure has continued to mount on professional sports teams such as the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians to break from tradition and change their names.

In spite of this trend, however, widespread agreement on how best to address the problem remains elusive in Colorado. Despite the commission's strong stance, the panel cannot mandate the changes. Previous attempts at bill proposals in 2010 and 2015 were mostly seen as intrusive, and many schools cited a lack of financial flexibility to reasonably make the switch.

Randy Miller, the superintendent of the Eaton school district, echoes those sentiments, claiming that changing sports uniforms and stripping the gym floor where the mascot is prominently displayed could cost upwards of $100,000, a tall task for schools already strapped for cash.

"If I'm going to spend money for anything, I want it to be for educational purposes," Miller told the Greeley Tribune. "That's my No. 1 goal. That's what I have said over and over."

One solution to the funding issue was offered last year by Adidas, which launched a new initiative providing design services and financial support to schools seeking to change their Native American mascots. According to the Denver Post, however, the plan received mixed reviews from many schools in Colorado.

Darius Smith, a co-chair of the commission, points out that although some schools were more receptive to change than others, the panel's findings illuminated differences in the opinions of young students compared to adults.

"One of the findings was that the young people in all these communities were saying, 'I think we need to change,'" Smith said to CBS4. "It was the older community members that were steadfast and holding on to tradition."

Other recommendations in the report include encouraging schools to form relationships with federally recognized tribes and increasing overall community engagement to learn more about American Indian mascotry.

According to the advocacy group Change the Mascot, roughly 2,000 schools across the country, including 30 Colorado public schools cited by the commission, continue to have Native American mascots, names, or logos.

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