The Nezperce School District is once again discussing a possible change to its “Indians” mascot.
Superintendent Shawn Tiegs said the conversation resurfaced after the Idaho State Board of Education received a letter last summer that asked for a ban on American Indian-based mascots.
The school board has listed the discussion item on its agenda since September, but is now formally collecting input from the Nezperce community.
“The issue has come up from time to time throughout the years,” Tiegs said. “I know people have a lot of different opinions on it, but I just think since (the topic) came up, it’s a good time to have a discussion about it. ... Ultimately, it’s our community that’s going to make the decision.”
The district last discussed a potential change in 2014, when the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee asked the school to retire its mascot. After a survey of the community, 62.5 percent of people opposed the change.
At that time, the district stopped using imagery of a chief with a full-feathered headdress as its logo.
“We still have the name ‘Indians,’ but since 2014, we don’t have any uniforms with imagery and we really only have one uniform that has the word ‘Indians’ on it,” Tiegs said.
The letter submitted by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes asked the state board, the governor of Idaho and the Legislature “to take a stand and establish state policy to prohibit public schools” from using American Indian-based mascots.
The Nezperce School District was not included in a list of schools that “use offensive names and mascots” in Idaho, but other schools with the Indians as a mascot were.
“The people, the schools and institutions who developed these names savage, redskins, braves, Indians are perpetuating racism and stereotyping,” stated the letter.
The letter goes on to say the names and images of these types of mascots “propagate harmful attitudes and perceptions to and about Indian people, leading to past, current and future misperceptions about tribes and of Indian people.”
In an email, Tiegs said a school’s mascot brings with it a sense of pride, focus and unity. He said the district’s current Indians mascot has not been used in a disparaging or comical way, but instead the focus has been on traits like “courage, tenacity, strength and wisdom.”
“While we have always focused on these traits, others realize that mascots are also generally recognized for their violent characteristics: vicious, fighting, anger, savage, aggressive, dominant, ruthless, and warlike,” Tiegs wrote. “Consider the mascots from schools in our own region of Idaho. While this attribution is OK for an animal and a sports program, this attribution of aggression is not fair for a race of fellow humans.”
Because of the resurgence of the issue, Tiegs said it was time for Nezperce to have “a family meeting” to further discuss the issue and to come to a decision on the community’s terms.
“I think there are really good things about this community and people,” Tiegs said. “It’s just time for a conversation and to do it in a positive manner.”
He hopes the conversation within the community remains civil. Tiegs doesn’t want it to become an “us versus them” mentality among those who disagree, or between the district and the tribes.
Although the most recent request to change the mascot did not come from the Nez Perce Tribe, Tiegs said they remain supportive of a change.
“I’ve had conversations with the Nez Perce Tribe and their executive council. They’ve made clear their feelings and they’d like to see the mascot changed,” Tiegs said.
The Nezperce School Board will allot 30 minutes for community input on the topic at its 4:30 p.m. Thursday meeting. The school board meetings in February and March will also solicit feedback.
The board is tentatively expected to make a decision in March or April.
Tomtas may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.
Community members will have the opportunity to provide input on the mascot at the Nezperce School Board’s meeting at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the high school library. Comments can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, mailed to P.O. Box 279, Nezperce, ID 83543, or hand-delivered to the district office. The school board will also listen to comments at its February and March meetings.