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School board votes to retire 'Indians' as Pocatello High mascot

The search for a new mascot will begin immediately.
Credit: Pocatello High Athletics

POCATELLO, Idaho — Trustees on the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District board voted Tuesday to replace Pocatello High School's 'Indians' mascot with a new name choice.

The Indian mascot will officially be retired June 1, 2021 to avoid switching the name in the middle of the school year. The search for a new mascot will begin immediately.

The vote came after heated testimony, both from those who said the mascot was demeaning to members of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe and those who argued it was an important tradition that should remain in place. 

Multiple current Pocatello High School student-athletes and head football coach Dave Spillett were among those who supported changing the mascot. 

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"At Pocatello High, we pride ourselves on being a school where 'everybody is somebody.' With that being said, we really shouldn't then decide which people count as everybody. As a society, we shouldn't choose what is offensive to other people: we should stop, listen, and try to understand," Spillett said. "I realize that this is an extremely sensitive subject because of the long history of our great school, and the many traditions that have been built. But just because something has happened for so many years, that doesn't make it right for it to continue happening today."

High school senior Bayden Sayer echoed the sentiment, telling the board members that although he does not believe previous alumni intended to mock or hurt Native Americans with the school's mascot, "sometimes the best efforts can still miss the mark."

RELATED: Tribes hope more Idaho schools will rethink mascots

"We can't hide behind the lie that we are honoring the Shoshone-Bannock people - I say 'lie,' as harsh as it may be, because if this is truly about honoring, we would listen to their voices and honor their requests for change," he said.

Not everyone agreed. 

Clayton Armstrong, who said his entire family from his parents on down to his own grandchildren had attended Pocatello High, said the Indian mascot had inspired him to learn more about the heritage of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe.

Armstrong also said he did not want the board members' "personal agendas" to influence their decision. 

"Why do we feel the need to change, or the community, because of the things that are being said in the media and what's going on around the world? he asked. "If the mascot Indians is not that offensive in the past and honors them, why isn't it honoring them now?"

RELATED: School board unanimously approves Boise High mascot change

Michelle Dan Hernandez, who told the trustees she was a descendant of Chief Pocatello, said she did not have a problem with Indians as the school mascot. When the question of picking a new name came up in years past, she said, the tribal council had given their blessing for the high school to continue using the mascot. 

Louida Benally, a member of the Tribal Youth Education Program, said she never thought much of the Pocatello High mascot until one night during a performance by the school's Indianettes dance team. The girls on the team came out to "Indian sounds" and music that would have fit in an black-and-white Western movie, she said.

RELATED: Meridian High School moving away from Native American logo

"I felt shame, and embarrassed - it just creeped up my back," she said. "That's when it hit me, I went, there's something wrong with this if I'm going to feel this [way,] there's something terribly wrong with the way they are portraying us."

Ultimately, board members voted 4-1 to remove Indians as the school mascot. Students currently in their senior year will finish out their time in high school before the new mascot is installed. 

The decision follows a trend of schools removing mascots related to Native Americans: The Teton County School District voted to drop the Teton Redskins as mascot in 2019, while Boise High switched from 'Braves' to Brave the same year. Meridian High has promised to discontinue use of a Native American headdress logo, although they will retain the 'Warriors' mascot name.