Tribal leaders oppose new resolution supporting schools using Native American mascots

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A new resolution on Capitol Hill isn’t sitting well with Native American tribal leaders and groups. H.J.R. 10, sponsored by Representative Rex Shipp (R-Cedar City) would express support on a statewide level of ‘appropriate use of names, images, and symbols of Native Americans and other indigenous people’ and discourage its removal.

Rep. Shipp said what prompted his sponsorship of the resolution was the controversial debate at the beginning of last year over Cedar High School’s ‘Redmen’ mascot of 76 years. Iron County School District officials ultimately decided to retire its mascot and replace it with the ‘Reds.’

“It seemed like there ought to be some sort of methodical way of encouraging government entities if they’re going to change these names that are basically historical,” said Rep. Shipp in a phone interview.

In a press release, the Utah League of Native American voters said tribal leaders from the Navajo Nation, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation oppose this resolution and request that it be withdrawn from consideration by the Utah Legislature.

“The use of Native American mascots by schools, sports teams, and so on, has harmful effects on the well-being of Native American youth,” according to the statement. “Numerous studies have shown these images depress or lower the self-esteem of Native American youth, as well as increases the negative attitudes towards Native Americans among non-Native Americans. These effects occur regardless of whether the Native American mascot is considered ‘offensive.'”

The organization’s founder, James Singer said this type of mascotry, imagery, and symbolism is not commonly seen with other ethnic groups.

“Would you call a team the ‘New York Jews,’ the ‘San Francisco Chinamen,’ or the ‘Atlanta Blackmen?’ No, because if we heard that, we would think that is extremely inappropriate,” he said. “But because of the history of our nation and marginalizing Native American groups, this seems like an acceptable practice, but it’s not.”

Rep. Shipp said he believes there are misconceptions surrounding his resolution and said it serves as more of a blueprint on the methodology and how to portray Native American mascotry positively, appropriately, and respectfully.

“We encourage this unless after careful and effective public process, the appropriate government entity determines there is a consensus among the affected individual Native Americans or other indigenous people that these images or names should be removed,” he said. “I’m not saying one way or another you should or shouldn’t keep the name. I’m just saying if you decide to, make sure you have a good, careful process.”

He elaborated that a ‘good, careful process’ would entail consultation with the local tribes involved and incorporation of Native American community members educating students on their history and culture.

“I think it’s honoring history and their contributions. Why eradicate that history? Let’s just educate people,” said Rep. Shipp.

But according to a list provided to ABC4 News by Dr. Harold Foster, the American Indian Education Specialist for Title VI Programs at the Utah State Board of Education, the only school in the state with an actual Native American tribe for their mascot is the University of Utah, who already have an agreement with Ute tribal leaders. The other 13 schools with Native American mascotry use umbrella terms such as Braves, Chiefs, Indians, and Warriors.

“Even as a Native person myself and for many other Natives, this doesn’t honor us. In fact, we’ve been very adamant to show how offensive and detrimental this can be,” said Singer. “We tend to fall back on some of the caricatures or tropes of Native Americans and often times, it’s a Hollywood Indian that comes forward. There have been lots of instances actually in Utah why people have fallen back on those tropes and ideas of what the Hollywood Indian is and try to portray that.”

Although the resolution would not put anything into law, Singer said its implications would diminish the voices of the Native American people.

“There’s a lot of language in it that’s trying to abscond the real reason behind it, which is to say if they want to use native imagery that they should be able to,” he said. “It just basically says we should be quiet about this now and that’s taking away our freedom to say, ‘No, this is something that’s wrong. We can be better neighbors about this and try to be more understanding of each other.’”

Rep. Shipp said he is open to discussing concerns with anyone who has read through the resolution

The Utah League of Native American Voters will be hosting an opposition rally to the resolution on Saturday at the Utah State Capitol from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

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Glen Mills

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For this Beetdigger and Ute it’s an honor to be doing what he loves in his home state! Glen is an award-winning journalist, who joined the ABC4 News team in June 2013. You can catch him anchoring ABC4 News at 5 and 6, Monday through Friday. He also serves as our Senior Political Correspondent, keeping you up to date on issues that impact your life at the city, state and national level. His political reports run throughout the week, and he hosts Inside Utah Politics, Sunday mornings at 8. The Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has recognized Glen as the best government and military television reporter in the state. Before returning home to Utah, he spent 11 1/2 years developing his journalism skills in other states. He held various on-air and management positions at KPVI in Pocatello, Idaho, WGBA in Green Bay, Wisconsin and KKCO in Grand Junction, Colorado during that time. Read More...

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