By Andrea Flores
DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado schools are making changes to Native American mascots after a report, released Monday, asked them to work with tribes toward a more authentic representation.
Gov. John Hickenlooper formed the Governor’s Commission to Study American Indian Representation in Public Schools, composed of 15 members, both native and non-native, through an executive order.
After five months of community meetings and discussion, the commission established four guiding principles they’d like to see Colorado schools implement in their schools. They are as follows:
1. The elimination of derogatory and offensive American Indian mascots, imagery, and names and a strong recommendation for communities to review their depictions in facilitated public forums.
2. The recognition and respect of tribal sovereignty and a strong recommendation for schools to enter into formal relationships with federally recognized tribes to retain their American Indian imagery.
3. The recognition and respect of local control by elected boards of education and an active involvement of local communities, students, and citizens around the topic of American Indian mascots.
4. A strong educational focus and outreach.
Strasburg High School Principal Jeff Rasp says the image of a Native American on the floor of the school’s gym will be there first thing to be removed from school grounds.
“It’s on the floor and you have kids running across it when it’s a sacred symbol,” Rasp said.
Rasp and Lindsey Nichols, a senior at Strasburg, were part of the commission and worked with North Arapahoe Indians from Wyoming to create an accurate representation of the Indians’ mascot.
But those aren’t the only changes being made around campus.
“We’ve taken down any posters that weren’t of authentic Native American people that may seem like caricatures or cartoonish,” Nichols said.
While the Strasburg Indians have already begun the process of working with other tribes, Darius Smith, co-chair of the commission, says the Eaton Reds and Lamar Savages were just some of the schools less receptive to change.
“One of the findings was that the young people in all these communities were saying, ‘I think we need to change,’” said Smith. “It was the older community members that were steadfast and holding on to tradition.”
While the commission agrees progress is being made, they say there’s still a long way to go.
“There’s no place for stereotypical images of Native Americans in any of our schools,” Rasp said. “It sends the wrong message about respect for other cultures.”
Strasburg High School will host a pow-wow with North Arapahoe Indians visiting from Wyoming on Friday. The school says it’s an important step in introducing students and staff to Native American culture.