Jun 29, 2021 - Sports

Colorado bans Native American mascots

A photo of the sign at Lamar High School that features a symbol of a Native American man and reads "Lamar Savages"

A sign at Lamar High School in 2015. Photo: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Native American mascots are on their way out in Colorado.

Driving the news: Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill Monday outlawing American Indian mascots in public K-12 schools, including charter schools, by October and at public universities by June 2022.

  • If an institution is found using an insensitive mascot thereafter, the state can charge a $25,000 fine for each month it fails to be removed.
  • Schools on tribal lands are exempt.

Why it matters: The use of Indigenous caricatures is largely criticized as racist and dehumanizing, and protests that engulfed the nation over George Floyd's murder elevated Native Americans' fight to change sports teams' names and logos, Axios’ Russell Contreras reports.

The big picture: Colorado is now one of seven states to weigh legislation ending the use of Native American mascots, according to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.

  • As of June 8, about 1,900 schools across the country boasted American Indian-themed mascots, according to a database maintained by the National Congress of American Indians.

Zoom in: Colorado's new law recognizes the historical oppression of Indigenous people within our state and the mascots' role in "promoting bullying" of American Indian students.

  • As of mid-March, two dozen Colorado schools were using Native American mascots, including the "Warriors," "Reds" and "Savages," the Colorado Sun reports.

Catch up fast: Efforts to do away with the Indigenous mascots have been underway in Colorado for years, including in 2015, when a commission of tribal members and state agencies recommended the mascots be eliminated from schools.

  • At least two schools in the state — Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs and Loveland High School — have changed their logos over the last year, but the moves didn't come without controversy around associated costs and politics, the AP reports.
  • At least one other school— Central High in Grand Junction — is preparing to cut ties with its Indigenous mascot after 75 years in light of the new statewide ban, per CPR.

What they're saying: "My people have worked hard to overcome these policies aimed to exterminate our existence and any record of our history and culture," Southern Ute Tribal Chairman Melvin J. Baker testified.

Yes, but: In a signing statement, Polis expressed concern about the cost for schools to make the mascot transition. He urged state lawmakers to do more to help.

  • Under the law, schools can apply for grants from a building fund, but Polis said the program prioritization would make it hard for them to get the money.

Of note: Polis also signed a bill that requires public state colleges and universities to offer in-state tuition for students in Native American tribes with historical connections to Colorado.


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