Local school officials oppose banning Indian names for teams

SALEM — A state panel heard strongly negative reviews Tuesday from local school officials about a proposal to ban American Indian high school mascots from about 15 Oregon schools.

Some American Indian leaders consider the use of Indian mascots, logos and team nicknames as offensive. So state school officials are considering a recommendation to force schools to get rid of them by September 2011.

During several hours of testimony, however, officials from those schools argued that there's no evidence that use of such mascots or symbols creates any problem and that it would be costly for districts to have to remove them.

Rogue River School District Superintendent Harry Vanikiotis hopes his high school will not be forced to abandon its mascot, the Chieftain.

"This school has had this mascot for a long period of time," Vanikiotis said. "Our mascot is out of respect and honor for the Native American people who were predominant in this area at one time."

In addition, Vanikiotis is concerned that schools will take a financial hit if they have to change jerseys and uniforms and repaint areas displaying banned mascots.

"Should this group mandate a change, I think they should provide the funds to make it possible," he added.

"We have no data to show that this causes harm," said Lee Paterson, superintendent for the Roseburg School District, where high school teams are called the Indians.

In fact, Paterson and other officials said the Indian students at those schools take a sense of pride in having their schools known by such symbols and that the community as a whole supports them as well.

The question was raised in Oregon last December, when then-high school senior Che Butler, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz, urged the Oregon State Board of Education to strike down the mascots as racist.

After Tuesday's hearing, Butler said that despite the school officials' assertions that the use of Indian mascots hasn't caused problems, he and other Indians feel demeaned and insulted by their use.

The proposal to do away with the Indian mascots and nicknames came after months of closed hearings by an advisory panel to state School Superintendent Susan Castillo, who hasn't indicated when she plans to issue a decision in the dispute.

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