BOISE — A local lawmaker plans to introduce a resolution supporting the use of Native American symbols by schools and other groups and discouraging their removal absent “a careful and effective public process.”
Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, who also represents Teton County, shared a draft with reporters on Tuesday and said he plans to get it introduced in the House Education Committee soon. The resolution says there are “schools or other places within the state that use names, images, or symbols of Native Americans or other indigenous people” and that they “can be authentic, appropriate, and accurate when used carefully with cultural sensitivity.”
The resolution, which is nonbinding, says the Legislature supports the “appropriate use” of Native American symbols by schools or others and that they shouldn’t be changed without a public process that ensures “there is a consensus amongst the affected individual Native American or other indigenous people that a name, image, or symbol should be removed.”
On Tuesday he told the Teton Valley News that he does not have tribal buy-in for the resolution. Public Affairs Manager for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Randy'l Teton did not immediately return a request for comment to the Teton Valley News.
The resolution’s origins go back to Teton County School District 401 trustees’ decision last summer to get rid of the high school’s Redskins mascot. Christensen, opposed this, calling it an attack on local heritage. At the beginning of this year’s legislative session, he floated the idea of requiring a popular vote before a school could change a mascot. However, he quickly walked this back in favor of a resolution, saying he didn’t think binding local school districts was the way to go.
“In good (conscience), I can’t interject into another representative government when individual rights have not been violated,” he posted on Facebook. “I need to hold to my principles of a layer cake system. Governments leave each other alone, unless rights are being violated.”
Christensen said the resolution would protect the Preston Indians’ mascot as well.
“I strongly feel that no body of people uses a name or mascot that they are ashamed of or that is a racial slur in their eyes,” he said.
Whether sports teams should use Native American mascots has been a topic of heated debate nationwide for the past few decades, involving hundreds if not thousands of school districts as well as national teams such as the Washington Redskins.
Boise school trustees debated the same issue in 2019, voting to change their high school mascot from the Braves to the Brave. The leadership of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, whose reservation is in southeastern Idaho, is against native mascots. The tribe pushed to get rid of the Teton Redskins and has urged other Idaho schools with similar mascots to change them too. The National Congress of American Indians has also been active in opposing native mascots.
Christensen’s resolution says there are Native Americans who support native mascots, pointing to the Native American Guardian’s Association, which has lobbied in favor of keeping them, saying it “represents the sentiment of the silent majority of individual Native peoples whose voices have been suppressed and ignored by activist forces.” Members of that group came to Driggs last year to argue in favor of keeping the Teton Redskins name. Christensen’s resolution also points to a 2016 poll of Native Americans done by the Washington Post that found 90 percent weren’t bothered by the Washington Redskins name. Opponents of native mascots responded at the time by criticizing the poll’s methodology.