Community members in Nezperce will soon have a different team to cheer for, at least in name, after the school board voted to change its “Indians” mascot.

The board retired the mascot with a 3-2 vote Monday, ending a discussion that spanned six years.

“It is hard to change a mascot, and we don’t take it lightly,” Nezperce Superintendent Shawn Tiegs said. “After months of perhaps tension and stress, we can move on and have fun in this new process.”

The school district will form a committee to find a suitable replacement mascot. It will include some board members, students, parents, community members and the superintendent. Suggestions will be presented to the board in September.

Tiegs said the decision to change the mascot was not “a kneejerk reaction to current times,” but instead involved a thoughtful process that included the community and the school board.

In 2014, the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee asked the school to retire its mascot. At that time, the district stopped using imagery of a chief with a full feathered headdress as its logo. The majority of uniforms for sports also dropped the word “Indians,” and, instead, the school district’s imagery switched to a blue and gold “N.”

But the conversation picked back up in January, several months after the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes asked the Idaho State Board of Education, Gov. Brad Little and the Legislature to prohibit the use of Native American-based mascots.

The school board sought public comment on a possible change for three months, before those conversations were once again tabled so the district could deal with closures related to the coronavirus.

“We take pride in our mascot, but the Nez Perce Tribe and the larger Native American community have made clear that they do not take pride in our mascot that represents their actual identity as human beings,” Tiegs said during the school board meeting.

Callie Zenner, the school district’s athletic director, said it’s a positive change for the community. Zenner graduated from Nezperce in 2000 and has two kids attending the high school.

“They haven’t been able to do anything with the mascot. They can’t dress up,” Zenner said. “We’ve been known as Nezperce High School for so long, and we had to do away with the ‘Indians’ as much as possible.”

A new mascot will allow the students to embrace their new identity, Tiegs said.

“We could select a mascot that we would no longer have to tip-toe around,” he said during the meeting. “We could dance, chant, sing and dress-up as that mascot. We would not have to address this difficult issue in perpetuity.”

A survey sent to community members earlier this year showed 40 percent of those who responded were supportive of changing the mascot, 40 percent were against the change, and 20 percent landed somewhere in between.

But, Tiegs said that 75 to 80 percent of those who responded said they would support the school district’s decision, regardless of where they landed on the mascot issue.

The change follows the decision of the Washington Redskins, an NFL team which this week announced it would drop its logo and its mascot.

Community members have also approached the Lewiston School District in an effort to get Sacajawea Middle School’s mascot of the “Braves” changed.

Logan Fowler, the director of communications and marketing at Lewis-Clark State College, said he is unaware of conversations focused on changing the college’s mascot, the “Warriors.”

“LC State is in regular communication with Idaho Tribes, including the Nez Perce Tribe, and is firmly committed to and greatly values these strong and important relationships that are a central part of LC State history,” Fowler said.

Tomtas may be contacted at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.

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