The Spokane Indians feature Salish on team uniforms.
The Spokane Indians feature Salish on team uniforms. Spokane Indians

Washington Representative Brad Klippert doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

“Multiple schools in my legislative district have Native American names, and each and every one of those schools I’m proud of,” he said over the phone, “because of the respect they associate with the names and mascots.”

Thirty schools in the state still use Native names and imagery, such as the Bethel Braves and the Clover Park Warriors. Spokane only retired the North Central Indians name in 2019. Kamiakin High School, just outside of Klippert’s district, is named for a Yakima chief.

That could all change thanks to a bill currently working its way through the legislature. House Bill 1356 would require public schools to consult with tribes before using Native American names, symbols, or images to represent the school. A broad coalition of Native and education groups support the bill, but not, alas, a handful of Republicans.

When the Washington House of Representatives considered the bill last month, only five lawmakers voted against it: Reps. Rob Chase, Jeremie Dufault, Brad Klippert, Bob McCaslin, and Robert Sutherland. What gives, guys?

“I was not contacted by any of my constituents on this, either for or against its passage,” wrote Dufault, one of only two legislators who responded to a request for comment. “I did not support HB 1356 because I do not believe in government censorship and I do not, as a rule, support unfunded government mandates.”

Claiming censorship is, of course, the standard Republican game of Idiot Ball these days. They argue that the real oppression is being expected to treat people with respect. This is why, for the last few days, conservatives had to pretend to care about Dr. Seuss.

HB 1356 would not enact a blanket ban on speech about Native Americans, of course. (And it's certainly nothing like the bans on discussing homosexuality that Republicans are very interested in passing.) The bill simply requires schools that wish to use a name originating in another culture to consult with representatives from that culture first.

This kind of consultation isn’t exactly unprecedented. It’s something the Spokane Indians did a few years back, and it’s why their new logo is written in Salish. In La Conner, the district removed a statue of an Indian head (that didn’t even depict a local tribe) and designed a new cedar band logo. In Thurston County, schools worked with the Nisqually Tribe to establish a day honoring environmental leader Billy Frank, and to fly the Nisqually flag.

This stuff isn’t rocket science, and it’s not a multi-million dollar project. And, bill sponsor Rep. Debra Lekanoff says, it prevents incidents such as the one two years ago, when a sign at a school sports event showed nooses with the words “hang the braves.” Good grief.

“Constituents in my district have been supportive of my no vote,” Rep. Klippert said. “There was one person who contacted me and said he was disappointed with my vote... I thanked him for his comments and said I’d love to continue the conversation.”

Klippert may wish to “continue the conversation,” but it’s out of his hands now. Despite the opposition from a handful of Republicans, the bill easily sailed through the House and is now awaiting a hearing on Monday before the Senate Committee on Early Learning & K-12 Education.