State Legislature

Mascot bill would defer to Indian panels

By Vic Vela
Posted

The debate over the use of American Indian mascots will come to the state Capitol next year.

State Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, is expected to carry a bill that could result in schools losing their mascots - or even losing state funding.

And the effort is sure to result in a vibrant public meeting on Salazar's bill, which is scheduled for Sept. 10.

Salazar said his bill would require schools that receive state funding and that wish to have Indian-themed mascots to first get the OK from representatives of American Indian communities.

Salazar said the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs could be in charge of making those decisions, or perhaps another commission would be created by lawmakers, who return to the Capitol in January.

If schools don't go before an Indian commission, Salazar said his legislation would still allow the schools to continue to use their mascots - but at a steep price.

"If they don't want to reach out, they can use the mascot, but they don't get state funding," he said. "They are able to exercise their First Amendment rights, but as a state we don't have to participate in their discriminatory conduct."

There is an ongoing national debate over the use of Indian-themed mascots, one that has centered on the NFL's Washington Redskins.

Opponents of Washington's mascot want it done away with because they feel it is a derogatory term that is akin to any other racial slur. The debate has led some NFL announcers and news organizations to move away from using the term "Redskins."

Others blast the movement as political correctness gone too far and say that the mascots are not racist, but rather pay homage to American Indian culture and history.

"They don't get to make that justification," Salazar said of that argument. "It's the American Indian community that gets to decide if it's racist to them. They can't just say, 'I don't think it's racist, so it's not racist.' You don't get to decide."

The issue will be discussed at a public meeting that is scheduled to be held at the Denver Indian Family Resource Center, 4407 Morrison Road, from 4:30-7 p.m. on Sept. 10.

There, Salazar will also talk about another piece of legislation that is of interest to the American Indian community - his revival of a bill that would allow out-of-state American Indian students to attend Colorado colleges at in-state tuition rates, so long as they have ties to Colorado tribes.

That legislation died in a committee hearing earlier this year.