New push to retire Native team names headed to Legislature

The first Native American woman elected to the Washington state House of Representatives says she is drafting legislation to remove Native-themed mascots and team names at public schools. This has been a goal of Native American leaders, but has new-found momentum after the Washington, DC, NFL football team’s name change.

Around two dozen high schools in Washington state currently use Native American-related mascots or nicknames -- most commonly Indians, Warriors and Braves, the Northwest News Network reported.

Democratic state Rep. Debra Lekanoff said derogatory nicknames and stereotypical caricatures of Native Americans cause lasting hurt.

“We’re being portrayed as no different than a token and no different than a tiger or a duck,” Lekanoff said. “In 15 to 20, 50 or 100 years, when they look back at our bills and how we treated one another, they’ll look at this bill and say, ‘It was just a little bill, but it brought some hope and respect for all.’ It’s good to heal.”

The move to phase out Native-themed mascots is “long overdue,” according to a panel of Native education leaders who spoke to the Washington State Board of Education late last week.

The Washington State Board of Education twice has passed non-binding resolutions urging schools to discontinue the use of Native American mascots. Some schools have since made changes.

By contrast, the Oregon Board of Education since 2015 has had the authority to mandate that public schools drop Native American mascots unless they got their local tribes’ approval and incorporated more tribal history in their curriculums. Some of the 16 affected Oregon districts changed their nicknames and others reached agreements with nearby tribal governments.

At the college level, the NCAA made member schools drop such mascots more than a decade ago.

In recent weeks, several southwest Washington school boards have taken action to change problematic mascots.