BOUNTIFUL (ABC4 News) – A sign of respect or a disrespectful tribute? Community members voiced their concerns about the Braves, Bountiful High School’s Native American mascot at Davis School District’s board meeting Tuesday evening.
The controversy began last week after two alumni, Mallory Rogers and Mykala Rogers created an online petition and reached out to school officials.
They said they are concerned that using the Braves as their mascot would perpetuate negative stereotypes about the Native American community. They shared multiple photos with ABC4 News from their yearbooks of students wearing red body paint, donning headdresses, and making racial gestures.
“A lot of the Native people that I’m talking to are tired and they are tired of feeling like they are yelling and nobody’s listening,” said Mallory Rogers.
“There are still so many harmful chants and calling dances pow-wows that do not give enough respect toward the culture that they are supposedly representing,” said Mykala Rogers.
Local indigenous organizations such as Utah League of Native American Voters, SLC Air Protectors, and Peaceful Advocates for Native Dialogue and Organizing Support (PANDOS) have released statements, voicing their opposition to Bountiful High’s mascot.
“Mascots are generally animals and the use of a Brave puts Indigenous people in that category. There are more than 500 different federally recognized tribes in the U.S.A. Each of them have distinct cultures, use of sacred regalia, and spirituality,” wrote Carl Moore, Co-Founder of the SLC Air Protectors in a statement.
He went on to write, “Mascots and logos such as the Brave presents the audience with a picture of what a Brave is supposed to look like. Hence continuing the stereotypes of how indigenous people are portrayed. Not only does this keep Indigenous people stuck in the past, but it also causes emotional violence to the Indigenous people who do not themselves look like a Brave as so depicted by Bountiful High School.”
But a number of others in the community feel differently, believing that the school’s mascot is meant to honor indigenous people. Alumnus Brett Baker created a counter-petition online and said he believes that the mascot should stay, as long as offensive regalia and logos are eliminated.
“I do have an issue with the cancel culture. I feel like we need to educate each other on what’s appropriate and what’s not within their culture because no one at Bountiful wants to offend anyone,” said Baker. “I have friends who were in my class and are Native American. They weren’t offended by our mascot.”
He added, “I think of the Braves as a group of people who are Brave. I don’t see how that’s negative and I think it differs from the argument down in Cedar City with the Redmen and the Redskins. I could see how those depictions can be seen as offensive.”
James Singer, co-founder of the Utah League of Native American Voters said Native American mascotry dehumanizes Indigenous people and said that no other ethnic group is used as a mascot.
“If we were to use other ethnic groups as mascots such as the San Francisco Chinamen or New York Jews, we would be up in arms,” said Singer.
Baker disagreed and said he believes the intention behind using Braves as a mascot is to show respect, honor, and pay tribute to Native American tribes.
“The New York Yankees is an example of another ethnic group that’s a mascot,” he said. “I see how certain things can be offensive and I’m not trying to push that aside. But the Braves represents family and unity between the students and the community as a whole.”
He said he is currently working with the Native American Guardian Association to preserve BHS’ mascot. According to their website, they are an organization that “fights to preserve and perpetuate Native American culture” as their “facts, images, and names are being hidden from view and removed from history indiscriminately.”
“If you forget history, you’re doomed to repeat it and obviously cancel culture is not necessarily canceling history, but it’s hiding it,” said Baker.
After 87 years, the owners of NFL team Washington Redskins announced Monday they would be retiring their Native American mascot. Officials with MLB team Cleveland Indians are also having a similar discussion.
As a result, administrators with Davis School District said they were not surprised that the topic came up with Bountiful High School. They said this is a process that is new to them and they are working on a way to bring all of the stakeholders to the table.
“This is a process where we want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to share their viewpoints. This is not something that will occur overnight. It won’t be a decision that is made before the first football game,” said Chris Williams, Communications Director for Davis School District.
Williams explained that BHS, built in 1951, is the second-oldest high school in Davis County, so he understands the strong allegiance behind its mascot. He said officials also understand concerns about its symbolism.
“I talked to Principal Aaron Hogge and he told me we will no longer see students dressed in Native American costumes at our sporting games moving forward. The imagery of a Native American male has also been removed from the logo, only showing a block B and a feather or an arrow,” he said.
Williams said it’s unclear at this time whether the issue will actually come before the school board and there’s no clear timeline on how or when administrators will respond to these concerns. He said their priority at this time is to figure out a plan for students to return to school safely in the fall during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Concerned community members spoke during Tuesday evening’s public comment period of the district’s board meeting. The issue was not included in the meeting’s agenda.
However, district officials said they are working on an e-mail address for the public to submit their input.
“We will also bring representatives of multiple Native American tribes to the table to discuss how they feel about our mascot,” said Williams. “We want everyone to understand that we don’t want to make light of anyone’s culture, religion, and ceremonial garb. It’s important to have these conversations.”