It is past time to change some of Colorado’s most offensive place names and monuments — including mascots. In her March 9 ColoradoPolitics.com column ("BARTELS | Two bills take aim but totally miss the target"), Lynn Bartels stated that the recently proposed SB21-116, a measure that will prohibit American Indian mascots, made her “shake her head.” She writes of Lamar’s “reverence” for American Indians in its use of “Savages” as its mascot, “I was stunned at how respectful (sic) Lamar treats the image, from student-made statues and sculptures outside the high school to artwork on the walls inside.”
As graduates of Lamar High School, we’re here to tell you we wholeheartedly disagree with this oxymoronic assessment of how “respectful” the school’s use of the “Savages” mascot is. Bartels ignores decades' worth of peer-reviewed research demonstrating the negative psycho-social effects of these mascots for both Native and non-Native students.
We, as white students, dressed up in stereotypical braided hair, wore war-paint, and used the tomahawk chop, not realizing the harm we were causing by playing into harmful racial stereotypes.
In a recent statement, Joy Persall, Lamar High School Class of 1976 graduate and former executive director of Native Americans in Philanthropy, recalled, “I remember sitting in junior high History with books, photos and stories of how my ancestors and other indigenous people were killed due to the beliefs of manifest destiny. It was difficult for me to be my full self in Lamar for fear of being beat up, which happened to both my brother and myself. We had no allies with teachers or community members. We tried to fit in, and risked losing our cultural grounding. So we remained silent and safe, yet oppressed, not by intention, but by lack of intention to others' reality and proper education of the history of the country.”
In 2016 members of the Commission to Study American Indian Representations in Public Schools visited Lamar High School. Tensions were anticipated to be so high, the superintendent requested police presence. Participants Ernest House, Jr., Darius Smith and Lindsey Nichols later told History Colorado how uncomfortable their visit to Lamar made them. The commission, composed largely of tribal leaders and organizations, ultimately called for “the elimination of American Indian mascots, imagery, and names, particularly those that are clearly derogatory and offensive...”
Passing legislation to retire American Indian mascots will provide a small step toward justice and healing to the descendants of the survivors of the Sand Creek Massacre (notably the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes), as well as other American Indians that have been harmed or offended by these discriminatory mascots, monuments and place names.
Bartels argued that the time is not right to require places of learning to end the use of these harmful stereotypes. Our view is that SB21-116 is decades overdue. Now is the time for Colorado to pass legislation banning the use of American Indian mascots in all public schools because of the psychological effects on both Native and non-Native youth as well. Let’s end these appropriations and misrepresentations of American Indian culture.
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