BOUNTIFUL (ABC4 News) – Bountiful Mayor Randy Lewis issued a statement Tuesday, apologizing for offensive comments made during an e-mail exchange with Bountiful High alumni regarding concerns about the school’s Native American mascot, the Braves.
Mallory Rogers and Mykala Rogers said what prompted them to learn about the harmfulness of Native American mascots was a social media post by Illuminatives that called for their removal nationwide.
Nationally, officials with NFL team Washington Redskins and MLB team Cleveland Indians said they are considering changing their mascots. In Utah, school district officials changed Cedar High School’s original ‘Redmen’ mascot of 76 years in 2019.
“I looked through past yearbooks and was astounded at what I was okay with in high school and that no adults said anything about it. Students were praised for their school spirits when they donned headdresses and face paint in spirit of the Braves,” said Mykala Rogers.
“I took a step back, decided to take stock of my personal history, and reflect on some of the implications and ramifications around my participation in cultural misappropriation,” said Mallory Rogers. “I may be white so I am not impacted in the same way the Native community is. But I do think it is my responsibility to raise my voice, to bring attention to it.”
Although it’s been seven years since they graduated, they decided to create an online petition and reached out to Davis School District’s board and Bountiful City officials about their concerns regarding the respectfulness of the mascot to the Native American culture.
“We should ask, ‘The mascot was put in place to be respectful. Is it still respectful? How does the Native American community, who we’re supposed to be respecting feel about it?’ We need to get their voices involved,” said Mallory Rogers.
“I will acknowledge that Bountiful High School has taken strides in the right direction, such as removing the brown face from the logo and not having an official live mascot at games. However, this is not enough, because 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.
James Singer, who is the co-founder of the Utah League of Native American Voters commended the alumni for speaking up.
“Often times, it means so much more coming from another white person. We often cross all sorts of different group boundaries whether it be ethnic, gender, sexuality, etc. to show allyship. What they are doing is being a great ally,” he said.
Mallory Rogers said most of the responses they received from the superintendent and other boards members were receptive. However, one particular e-mail from Mayor Lewis caught them off guard. It read in part:
“Are you an indigenous person? Are you their official spokesperson? […] This sounds a lot like sheep mentality that follows the BLM movement. Now is a good time to pile on. Oh and I attended the BLM gathering in Bountiful. I believe we all need to be less easily offended about many things.”
“I was angry. I was disappointed. I was shocked. I was hurt. It was not the way that I expected it to be received, especially by an elected public official,” said Mallory Rogers. “It made me take a step back and questioned if I should have even said anything.”
Singer said he also found the mayor’s comments troubling.
“This is typical of what social scientists called ‘white fragility’ and it’s this idea that when whites confront other whites by breaking some of that solidarity, they react in these fragile kinds of ways,” he said.
He explained that research has shown that there are psychological effects on indigenous students who attend white majority schools with Native American mascots.
“It’s harmful. It lowers self-esteem, it looks at their academic performance, it looks at their mood and this happens even if the community hasn’t even deemed the mascot offensive. It happens regardless,” said Singer.
He said it also impacts non-Native students in how they perceive and act towards Native students.
“This teaches them a hidden curriculum. On one hand, the curriculum says we shouldn’t have racism in our society. But the hidden curriculum shows that we have this mascot that we can caricaturize of Natives, which dehumanizes them,” he said.
Singer added, “When it comes to Native mascots, this is something that hasn’t quite caught up. If we were to use to use other ethnic groups as mascots such as the San Francisco Chinamen or New York Jews, we would be up in arms.”
Mallory Rogers later posted the e-mail exchange with Mayor Lewis on Twitter, which has been shared hundreds of times. On Tuesday, he issued a statement that said in part,
“I made some offending comments I would like to apologize for. […] In my haste to provide quick responses to these emails, I made comments that were overly simplistic and hurtful. […] I am supportive of having this issue discussed within our community, and hope that all viewpoints can be shared and considered with respect. […] Moving forward, I will be more thoughtful in my words and actions to better demonstrate the values of Bountiful City and provide a welcoming environment for individuals to express their concerns.”
Rogers said the apology is one step forward. But now, she hopes that school and city officials will follow through and bring their concerns to the table.
“I want to keep this conversation going so that hopefully in the future, other students at Bountiful High don’t experience the racism that I’m hearing about and white students don’t feel complicit,” said Mallory Rogers.
“Even if the mascot remains the same, I hope that there will be greater respect within the school through policies like, assemblies about the mascot and how to respect it and zero tolerance policies within the school about wearing headdress and disrespectful face paints,” said Mykala Rogers.
As of Tuesday evening, their online petition has collected nearly 1,000 signatures.