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Tribes hope more Idaho schools will rethink mascots

The use of the mascots has contributed toward misunderstandings, bullying and taunting of Native American students and athletes, Randy’L Teton said.
Credit: Idaho Press
Randy’L Teton, right, public affairs manager for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, and Yvette Tuell, left, a policy analyst in the tribes’ office of public affairs, are shown at the Idaho state Capitol on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019, after Teton gave a presentation about high school mascots to the Idaho Council on Indian Affairs.

BOISE, Idaho — With two Idaho high schools having moved away from mascots depicting Native American people and symbols in the past six months, Idaho tribal representatives said Thursday that they hope a half-dozen others will re-examine their mascots as well.

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“Basically, education is the key,” said Randy’L Teton, public affairs manager for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, and the model for the gold Sacagawea U.S. dollar coin, first issued in 2000.

Teton presented to the Idaho Council on Indian Affairs, which brings together state and tribal leaders, during the council’s meeting at the Idaho state Capitol on Thursday, according to the Idaho Press.

Council members praised her presentation, with Gary Aitken Jr., chairman of the Kootenai Tribe, calling it “a great presentation on a very important topic.”

Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom, chair of the council, told Teton, “Appreciate you being here and your passion for protecting your culture and your way of life.”

Teton recounted how her tribes participated in efforts to help persuade Teton Valley High School in Driggs to retire its “Redskins” mascot. An out-of-state group came to Driggs to support the mascot, suggesting it honored Native Americans.

“That was a message that was very strong in Driggs, that we’re honoring you, and I was standing right there and saying, ‘No, you are not, because I am not a ‘redskin,’” Teton said. “My 6-year-old was right next to me. Is my child a ‘redskin’? No. … They are not honoring our Indian people.”

“They teach harmful images and misperceptions about our Indian people,” she said.

After much community uproar that stretched over several years, a divided school board there voted to move away from using the mascot imagery.

Teton recounted a different experience with Boise High School, which recently changed its mascot from the “Boise Braves” to “Boise Brave,” moving from an image of a Native American — which didn’t match customs for any of Idaho’s tribes — to a concept of “being brave.”

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“I’m going to smile on this one,” Teton said. “Boise High School has been amazing to work with. … They made a unanimous decision to change their name.”

She said she also presented at a meeting of Idaho’s five recognized Native American tribes a day earlier, and noted the issuance of a position paper by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes on racism and mascots in Idaho schools.

“The statement opposes the use of racial misappropriation of terms referring to Native Americans as a part of any school mascots, names or images,” Teton said. “This includes Indians, Redskins, Braves, Savages and Warriors.”

She said she’s sometimes asked to explain the Shoshone-Bannock High School’s own mascot, the Chiefs. “We have blood coming from Native American chiefs, Chief Bannock, Chief Arimo,” she said.

Teton said she recently learned that Pocatello High School, which has “Indians” as its mascot, has a drill team that does a type of “tom-tom dance,” using a fake “war bonnet,” “real moccasins, which is good — thumbs up to that,” she said, and at the end of the dance, breaking an arrow. “In Indian way, that might mean, ‘Let’s go to war,’” she said.

“The concept of them still to this day doing that is a mockery of us as the local tribe,” she said. “And that’s where we would like to say, OK, we need to talk about this. How can we come to neutral ground?”

She said her tribes haven’t taken any formal position on the Pocatello mascot, nor have they taken any steps to formally request a change.

Other existing high school mascots that use Native American references include the Salmon Savages in Salmon; the Salmon River Savages in Riggins; the Shoshone Indians in Shoshone; the Preston Indians in Preston; and the Buhl Indians in Buhl. Teton said she’s also recently learned there are more in northern Idaho.

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The use of the mascots has contributed toward misunderstandings, bullying and taunting of Native American students and athletes, she said.

Aitken said, “Some of this is quite pervasive. I know that when we were young, in school some of the kids would ask us if we still lived in tepees.”

He said his 13-year-old daughter recently recounted similar comments from a softball teammate. “Hopefully just continued education will be able to right these wrongs,” he said.

Teton suggested diversity training for school faculty and administrators, and more education for Idaho high school students about the state’s Native American tribes and “our rich culture.”

Yvette Tuell, a policy analyst with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, said, “The whole point is what was OK 100 years ago is not OK now, and it’s OK to change.”

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