BOISE • Idaho schools should not depict Native Americans as school mascots without consulting nearby tribes for guidance, said members of Idaho’s Council on Indian Affairs Friday.
While no action was taken at Friday’s meeting, the council agreed that more outreach to Idaho’s schools about using “offensive” Native American images, such as “squaw,” “redskins,” or “savages,” as school mascots was needed.
The struggle to remove offensive Native American images as mascots is being fought not only in schools but also on a national level, where tribes have spoken out against major sports teams, especially pro football’s Washington Redskins and baseball’s Atlanta Braves.
“We want a correct portrayal of who we are,” said Silas Whitman, of the Nez Perce Tribe, who is also the committee’s vice-chair. “If you want to use something of our culture, let us decide what kind of taste to depict us in.”
Near the Nez Perce Tribe, Whitman said, a Lewiston middle school class recently painted a mural of a “brave” holding a bloody scalp. That image has an impact on a student passing by that mural every day for three years, he said.
“We’re always at a point to educate people, to promote greater understanding,” Whitman said. “Trying to get them to realize the humanity of what this all about.”
People who defend using offensive images of Native Americans are misguided, said Gary Aitken Jr. of the Kootenai Tribe.
“They call it tradition because that’s what they know,” Aitken said. “They don’t recognize the pain that’s committed.”
Nathan Small, of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, said that the problem has gotten better but more action is needed.
In the 1970s, Shoshone-Bannock tribal members fought to change a Pocatello high school’s “savages” mascot. The school eventually switched to an Indian mascot — which Small said the tribe was OK with — but the school’s female dance team still performs offensive dances that involve marching like Native Americans wearing headdresses to pop music.
“No matter how much we talk to them, it just won’t go away,” Small said. “It’s offensive, especially to our women because they don’t do that.”
When white people originally came to North America, Native Americans were told their “savagery” would have to be removed, said Dennis Smith from the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe. Now, white people are defending keeping those terms in schools.
“It brings a tear to your eye seeing them trying to imitate an Indian when they don’t have a drop of Indian blood in them,” Smith said.
Small asked if the Legislature or the governor would get involved to help prevent negative images of Native Americans from being used. Lawmakers on the council, including state Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, said they would supply their colleagues with the meeting’s minutes.