The Seattle Human Rights Commission (SHRC) is asking Washington State legislators to step up and ban the use of Native American mascots—from Warriors, Indians, Braves, to Redskins, Tomahawks, and Totems—in the state's public schools.
In honor of Native American Heritage Month, today the commission passed a resolution calling "for the elimination of Native American mascots because of the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals on the social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian students."
It follows a September resolution passed by the Washington State Board of Education that encouraged roughly 30-odd public schools around the state to drop their Native American mascots.
"We applaud what the board of education did but it's basically voluntary," explains Chris Stearns, chair of the SHRC. But he says the Washington ed board lacks the teeth to issue an outright ban on mascots. "We’re taking it a step further and asking the legislature to do something. We're pushing them to do what Oregon did."
Last May, the Oregon state Board of Education issued an outright ban on Native American mascots, nicknames and logos from its public schools. Oregon school administrators have five years to comply with the edict or risk losing their state funding.
The SHRC resolution cites as many as 50 Washington schools that currently use Native American imagery and motifs, while the Tri-City Herald puts the current number at 32 public and private schools.
Eleven schools call themselves Warriors—including the privately-run Seattle Christian High School. Another eight schools around the state call themselves Indians, and another four are Braves, including Seattle's Bishop Blanchet High School (another private institution).
Stearns says his next step is approaching legislators to see if any are willing to sponsor a bill for the mascot ban, starting with Rep. John McCoy (D-Everett), a Tulalip tribal member. If such a bill were drafted, Stearns says he would support an exception for schools that are located on tribal land or have a direct tribal connection.
"The board [of education] started a great conversation, we're just trying to keep it going," Stearn explains.