Boise School District mascot discussion

A Boise High School student speaks to the Boise School District board of trustees Monday night in support of changing the Boise High mascot from the "Boise Braves" to "Boise Brave."

BOISE — The Boise school board unanimously authorized Boise High School's mascot to change from the "Boise Braves" to "Boise Brave" Monday night, after 27 people testified mostly in support of the switch. 

Boise High officials last week announced they intended to make the change. The school's principal, Robb Thompson, said the change is "the final step in a multi-year process to move Boise High’s mascot away from a caricature of Native American culture."

"Everyday is a good day to be brave," Thompson said at Monday's meeting. 

In a letter to the board, Boise High staff Denise Donovan said school officials have worked with students and stakeholders to evolve Boise High's branding away from Native American imagery since 2014. This summer, she said Boise High leadership worked with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes "to more fully understand the history and the concerns regarding offensive Native American imagery and mascots."

"Boise Schools has always been able to move forward while respecting the past. The administration’s recommendation does not erase, nor diminish, Boise High’s past," Donovan said in the letter.

The district recently decided to remove all imagery of indigenous people from the school's uniforms and campus. Boise School District spokesman Dan Hollar said while that change will take a couple of years to fully execute, this is another effort to make sure all students feel welcome and represented at Boise High.

Of the 27 who testified, 24 supported a mascot change. Many were Boise High alum or staff, who said changing the mascot would make Boise High a more respectful place that students and staff could be proud to be a part of. 

"Brave is a character trait, not a historical label," said one student, the incoming student body president for Boise High.

Two members of the Western Shoshone Tribe spoke at the meeting. One of them, from Owyhee, Nevada, said her ancestors were from the Treasure Valley and were marched out by the U.S. Cavalry. She praised Thompson for his work figuring out how the school should go about the transition. 

"Your principal has taken it on to be brave. So be that," she said.

Three of the speakers were against the change, and made different suggestions. One was a current student who asked the board to find a compromise. He suggested the school take away images of Native Americans, but keep the original name of Braves. 

Another speaker, from Boise High's class of 1954, suggested the school replace the mascot with another noun instead of an adjective. He suggested "Cavalry." The third speaker in opposition said the Braves mascot did not always promote negative stereotypes, and brought up other schools with potentially offensive mascots, like the "Warriors" mascot at Meridian and Kootenai high schools.

“If these schools' logos have no problem, then what is the problem with Boise High?” he said.

Tai Simpson, a member of the Nez Perce Tribe and indigenous activist, said that while she believes Boise High needs to change its mascot, dropping a letter from it doesn’t do the trick.

“Personally, I’m in the camp of the people who think it’s not enough of a change,” she said.

Others objecting to the change are lobbying for the school not to change the mascot without more public involvement.

Former state legislator and Boise High graduate Branden Durst started a campaign titled “Save the Boise Braves.” The campaign has a Facebook page and a petition, signed by more than 275 people as of Monday afternoon, to push the school district to put off the change.

Boise’s move comes weeks after Teton School District trustees decided to retire the 90-year-old Redskins mascot name at Teton High School, also at the urging of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. That decision was met with some resistance from the community, including a grievance petition, the Teton Valley News reports.

Despite the opposition, several board members in Boise said approving the mascot change was an easy decision.

Boise School District Superintendent Coby Dennis said the lesson from the discussion should be that there needs to be more education about Native American culture. 

"The content of what we’ve learned is probably the most important thing," Dennis said.

The board received a standing ovation from the packed crowd after voting to approve the mascot change. 

Boise and Teton Valley mascots are not the only mascots that have come under scrutiny in recent months. Calls to retire the Salmon High School mascot, the Savage, can be found as far back as the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Ada County reporter Xavier Ward contributed to this report. 

Erin Bamer is the Nampa/Caldwell reporter. Contact her at 208-465-8193, or ebamer@idahopress.com. Follow on Twitter @ErinBamer. 

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