A mile in their moccasins

The Oregon Board of Education's ruling that Rogue River High School and 14 other Oregon schools must retire Native American nicknames, logos and mascots has generated predictable anger. Resentment of the state board's edict is understandable, but it is misplaced.

There is a long tradition in this country of using Native American symbols to represent the human virtues of strength and bravery. That tradition will now come to an end, at least in Oregon public schools.

The change is not a new one.

Stanford University's sports teams once were the Indians. Today they are the Cardinal.

Southern Oregon University's Raiders originally were the Red Raiders, referring to a local Indian tribe and represented by a logo of an Indian from the 1950s through the early 1970s, when the mascot and the "Red" part of the name were dropped.

Schools across the country have dropped Native American imagery and nomenclature out of respect for native culture. The holdouts are professional sports teams, which still include the Redskins, Chiefs, Braves and Indians.

Critics of the state board's decision say the traditional team names and mascots are not racist. American Indian representatives say they are.

They go further, saying the mascots promote bullying of Native American students.

We don't think most high school students are racist, and we don't know whether American Indian names and mascots have led to bullying incidents. But those arguments really miss the point.

To understand the effects of this long tradition, imagine you are Native American. Then think about your people's history.

White European settlers swarmed across this continent, displacing native populations wherever they went. The settlers infected Indians with smallpox, poisoned them with alcohol, massacred them in large numbers, stole their land and forced them onto reservations.

Then they built schools and proceeded to name their sports teams for the people they had subjugated.

That's not an honor. That's an insult.

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