SALEM — Kiante Davis is well aware of controversy over the use of Native American symbols and team names. That’s partly why he chose to wear a headdress to Wednesday’s girls basketball state tournament game.
Davis, 15, is a Lebanon High School sophomore, and said he’s proud of his native heritage, which includes Cherokee and Montauk. Both the headdress and Lebanon’s team name, the Warriors, reflect that pride, he said.
“Mainly I did it because of school spirit,” he said. “I don’t take it (as) offensive.”
More than two dozen people who testified Thursday in Salem before the State Board of Education chose a similar theme in urging board members to reject a committee’s recommendation to ban the use of all Native American names, mascots and logos by Oregon schools that receive public funding.
The board’s ultimate decision also would affect Philomath High School, whose nickname and mascot also is The Warriors, as well as 13 other Oregon high schools that have Native American nicknames or mascots.
The board had a first reading of the recommendation and will hold another meeting on the topic April 19. No vote is expected until May or later. Public comment will continue to be accepted.
The committee, which included Board Chairwoman Brenda Frank, herself of Native American heritage, has been researching and discussing the mascot issue since 2006, when a Siletz Tribe teenager first brought the ban request to the board.
Committee members said the use of Indian mascots and logos amounts to “institutionalized racism” and violates schools’ obligations to be free of discrimination.
But students, parents and educators from Lebanon, Philomath and other Oregon districts that use Native American symbolism — many also identifying themselves as members of particular tribes — said the images are a source of pride and are used as such.
Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, whose son, Austin, 14, is a freshman at Lebanon High, urged the board to abandon a “top-down mandate” in favor of asking tribes to communicate with local communities to reach an understanding that works best for them.
Added Austin, who wore his Warrior football uniform for the occasion: “For us, it’s a school pride thing.”
Lebanon boys basketball coach Kevin Johnson, a member of the Choctaw Nation, said he’s taught in schools both tribal and nontribal and believes the logo can be used as a teaching tool for Indian culture and history.
Sam Sachs of Portland, a 1986 graduate of South Albany High School, was one of three speakers Thursday who disagreed.
Sachs said he carried a giant Confederate flag, then a symbol of the South Albany Rebels, when he ran around the football field as a high school junior to celebrate his winning touchdown over West Albany. That symbol was wrong, Sachs said, and so are Indian symbols.
“To me, people aren’t mascots. Let me just say to you: African American mascot. Latino mascot. Jewish mascot. Lincoln High Jews?” Sachs asked. “Does that sound right to you?”
But Philomath alum Jeff Williams, who wore his Philomath Warrior T-shirt to the meeting, said the Confederate flag is wrong because it is a symbol of a shameful period in American history. Philomath’s image of an Indian warrior, in contrast, is symbolic of pride and power.
Removing such symbols won’t solve racism, Williams said. “Education will solve your problem. It probably won’t be solved in our lifetime, but it can be improved.”