DENVER (CBS4) – Gov. John Hickenlooper is putting pressure on schools that have mascots that could be considered offensive to Native Americans.
On Tuesday he signed an executive order creating a commission to study American Indian representations in public schools.
It’s targeted at mascots like the Lamar Savages and La Veta Redskins, depictions deemed racist or just inappropriate. In some cases, the schools may not realize the offense they cause.
“Maybe some of these communities have never heard from a tribe what that name means,” explained Ernest House, Jr., the Executive Director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs.
He said the governor’s action puts communities and tribes together for a discussion on how Native American images are misused, discussions that will happen in the same room, face to face.
“There’s no invoking penalties or state funding,” House said. “This just brings a conversation at a local level.”
It’s a softer approach than one proposed by two Democratic state representatives last term. Rep. Joe Salazar from Thornton said he is thrilled by Hickenlooper’s action.
“This commission is the next step in that national movement of making those changes to the most offensive mascots and offensive names,” Salazar said.
Rep. Jovan Melton, who represents Aurora, also sponsored that mascot bill. It would have helped pay for schools to change mascots and fine schools that didn’t comply. Senate Republicans killed that bill.
Both lawmakers praised the action, saying it puts Colorado ahead of the nation.
“Colorado has set an example for the rest of the country on showing respect for our nation’s native peoples,” Melton said in a written statement.
The meetings between the tribes and schools will begin in November.
Salazar believes the governor’s approach will work at a local level even while national debates continue to rage, like the one over the Washington Redskins.
“History will look back at the owner of the Redskins and judge him for being on the wrong side of history,” Salazar said. “There’s something interesting about on the right side of history — you’ll always be right.”