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Some Colorado schools remove Indigenous mascots ahead of deadline

Twelve schools still need to remove their indigenous American mascots, symbols and names, or face fines starting June 1.

DENVER — Less than three months to a deadline, about half of Colorado schools that had Indigenous American mascots, names, symbols or imagery have made changes.

More than two dozen were on the list when Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill to prohibit American Indian mascots last year.

Those that are left, 12 schools, have until June 1 to stop using them or face $25,000 in fines per month.

There are exceptions -- for instance, if a school has an agreement with a federally recognized tribe to use the mascot.

"Native children shouldn't be exposed to being a good luck charm or being identified as a relic," Danielle Seewalker, co-chair of the Denver American Indian Commission, said.

On Thursday, the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA) updated the list of schools that are not yet compliant with the law passed last year. 

"They need to realize it's nothing personal against the school," Seewalker said. "It's really about our children feeling confident in who they are."

Seewalker is an Indigenous woman with two sons, and helped work on the bill last year. She said the Indigenous community has some of the highest suicide rates in the country and stereotypical images of their culture can be extremely harmful.

"Not having to go to basketball games, football games and having these mascots in the stadium and people on the opposing team do the tomahawk chop or mimicking Native people," she said. 

Matthew Makley, Ph.D. specializes in Indigenous history at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

"Sometimes acknowledgment is a great first step, and I think that's what this legislation is after," he said.

He said culturally appropriated mascots can conjure up painful legacies of colonization. But this law may be able to open up a dialogue.

"If nothing else, at least we can come to a common understanding in Colorado that our past involves Indigenous people who were forcefully removed from their homelands," Makley said. "I'm really glad to see some of these schools taking action and really stepping up."

Two schools, Arapahoe High School and the Strasburg School District, will keep their mascots, after making agreements with the respective Native American tribes.

The Weldon Valley School District was one of those removed from the non-compliant list on Thursday. Superintendent Ben Bauman said they will be removing the spear from their logo but will be keeping the name "Warriors". He said he's glad to be moving forward after getting approval from the commission. 

Bauman estimates they'll have to pay anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 to remove the old logo from things like sports uniforms, padding, mats and banners.

Mesa County Valley School District 51 was also removed from the list Thursday. Spokeswoman Emily Shockley said Central High School changed their logo to a shield with a "C" on it. 

The Montrose County School District is still on the non-compliant list. In a press release, the district said:

Montrose County School District is extremely disappointed in the Commission's decision today (without explanation) to force an unfunded change of the Johnson Elementary School “Thunderbird,” mascot and to refuse to accept the Montrose High School “Red Hawk,” as an acceptable alternative to the Montrose High School “Indian.” The Commissioners provided no rationale or reasoning for this arbitrary decision and we are deeply troubled that the Commission continues to include these schools on their list of offensive mascots.  

As we presented to the Commission in January, the Thunderbird is a cross-cultural mythical creature not specific to or a depiction of Native Americans or Indigenous People. Any instance of the Johnson Thunderbird that could be confused with Indigenous iconography or imagery was changed to a more “animated” or “cartoon,” version.  

We have no idea how or why the Commissioners would find the Montrose High School “Red Hawk,” an inappropriate or offensive alternative and we are confident changing the mascot from the” Indians,” to the “Red Hawks,” meets the intent and language of SB 21-116. 

The CCIA will have another special session on April 15.

RELATED: Lawsuit filed against state law banning Native American mascots

RELATED: Colorado lawmakers propose bill to remove American Indian mascots from all public schools


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