Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde

Republished from Indian Country Today, June 12, 2012,

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, along with representatives from some of the other nine federally recognized Tribes in Oregon, does not support the recent Oregon Board of Education decision to ban Native mascots used by some high schools.

As a sovereign nation, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde has worked diligently to build positive government-to-government relationships across all levels of government. We have done so on federal, state and local levels, including with our local school districts.

We are proud of the strides that we have made over the years, and are equally proud of the state of Oregon and its efforts to build and maintain these relationships. They benefit citizens in communities throughout Oregon, and bring with them opportunities to increase awareness of Oregon’s unique and diverse sovereign Tribal governments.

We remain convinced that the native mascot issue is best resolved with efforts from Tribal governments working with their local communities. Grand Ronde has worked with our own local school districts to ensure they accurately and respectfully portraying native culture. We have been able to deal with these situations at the local level, with respect and sensitivity to our Tribal students, all students, our Tribal citizens and all citizens within our shared communities.

High school mascots are supposed to be inspirational. High schools do not adopt “losers” or “slugs” as their mascots; they adopt admirable and inspirational figures. The banned names—Indians, Braves and Chiefs—are inspirational Native images and we do not view their use as de facto derogatory.

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, along with other Oregon Tribes, preferred a solution that would allow schools to keep their Native mascots if they collaborated with a representative Tribe on positive portrayals or integrated cultural studies to combat stereotypes.

That being said, we are more disturbed by the state Board of Education’s disregard for our sovereignty and their consistent foot-dragging regarding one of our constant requests—to end racism against Oregon’s Native people, mandate that schools in Oregon teach our history.

The Grand Ronde Tribe has a long-standing request in to the state Department of Education to fund an Indian Education Specialist, as well as mandate that all Oregon schools teach Oregon Tribal history.

There are nine federally recognized Tribes in Oregon. The history of our peoples who have lived in Oregon since time immemorial covers the breadth of the state, and is either ignored or briefly mentioned in our schools. Most Oregon students learn more about the Sioux and Apaches than they do about the Umpqua, Rogue River and Kalapuya.

As our Tribe’s vice chairman, Reyn Leno, often asks, “Why are our children going to school and teaching their teachers about our history?”

Rather than handing down an unfunded mandate on mascots, if the state Board of Education truly wants to take a giant step toward reduction or elimination of racism toward Oregon’s Native peoples, then put us in your history books—fund an Indian education specialist and mandate that schools teach the history of the peoples who have lived on this land since long before explorers, fur traders and settlers started arriving in the early 1800s.

The history of Oregon did not start with the arrival of Lewis & Clark. It was occurring for thousands of years before they set foot on our land, and many of those Indians, Braves and Chiefs are worthy of being honored as high school mascots.

Let’s work on something that truly makes a difference for the benefit of Tribes and all Oregonians. Let’s take a long and serious look at teaching all of Oregon’s students about the history and culture of Oregon’s nine unique sovereign governments.

If more Oregonians were educated about Tribal history, society and culture, it would do much more to solve the problems attributed to Indian mascots than simply outlawing the practice.