LEBANON — State education officials are still working on the rules Oregon high schools with Native American nicknames or images must follow if they choose to discuss agreements to keep those names.
Lebanon, Philomath and 13 other public high schools use “Warriors,” “Indians” or other team names with Native American connotations. The State Board of Education voted 5-1 in 2012 to require all Oregon public schools to eliminate American Indian names, mascots and imagery by 2017 or risk losing state funding.
That rule still stands. But Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a bill last February that allows schools to work with their closest tribe on acceptable names and imagery, as long as they have those discussions based on rules set up by the state board, and as long as both sides — and the state — agree to the final decision.
The board received a report on the first draft of those rules at its Thursday meeting. Next steps include soliciting comments from the public and consulting with the Oregon tribes regarding the rules.
A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27, but a vote on the proposed rules is not expected until the April meeting of the state board, said Jenni Deaton, Oregon Department of Education spokeswoman.
Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, cosponsored the bill signed last year. She spent several weeks traveling to each of the affected school districts, meeting with board members and district representatives to encourage them to “build authentic relationships” with tribes rather than just work toward keeping a jersey logo.
Sprenger also was a part of the work group that drafted the initial rules. She called the work group’s first attempt at rule language “dysfunctional,” saying hours were spent rehashing arguments over mascots and imagery in general rather than attempting to parse out the actual parameters of the law.
However, she said, by the second meeting, work became more productive.
“I am not convinced, but I’m a whole lot more hopeful,” she said.
Questions remain for the Lebanon district. For instance, while the draft rules ban outright the use of certain names, including “Redskins,” “Savages,” “Indians,” “Chiefs” and “Braves,” the name “Warriors” is acceptable as long as it is not combined with an image that refers to an American Indian tribe.
Lebanon’s “Warrior” logo includes, alternately, an image of a man in a feathered war bonnet or a Native rider on horseback depicted in a metal sculpture on the school’s outer wall.
If a school uses a logo that depicts an individual person, the rules state the school may enter into an agreement for its use only if the name of the tribe is included. For instance, state educators said, Siletz Charter School, whose team is the Siletz Warriors, might be allowed to retain its current name and logo if it entered into a mutually-acceptable agreement with the Siletz Tribe.
It isn’t clear whether that means schools such as Lebanon would need to add a tribal name to “Warriors” in order to qualify for an agreement with a tribal council. Native tribes in the Lebanon area included the Kalapuya, now a part of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.
Also, during Thursday’s state board discussion, speakers indicated the work group did not want Oregon tribes to be able to approve the use of a name, likeness or mascot from a tribe outside the state. That may throw into question schools that use Native American images more common to the tribes of the Plains than the Pacific Northwest.