By Marissa Armas

DENVER (CBS4) – A North Dakota nonprofit is suing Colorado for banning schools from using American Indian mascots. The Native American Guardian’s Association filed the lawsuit in early November.

They said SB21-116, which was signed into law in June is discriminatory and unconstitutional. Starting June 1, 2022, the state measure will fine public schools, colleges and universities $25,000 a month for their use of American Indian-themed mascots.

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(credit: CBS)

William Trachman, the lawyer representing the group said the ban unlawfully enacts state-sanctioned race discrimination, which is why the group is suing several state leaders, including Gov. Jared Polis, Attorney General Phil Weiser and Kathryn Redhorse, the executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs.

“The Native American Guardian’s Association thinks tribal imagery and icons are helpful to keeping Native Americans as part of the public square and in the culture,” said Trachman. “Even when a name might be somewhat offensive to some groups there is a purpose to re-appropriate or re-claim an image or an icon that might be offensive to some.”

The lawsuit includes at least five plaintiffs from Colorado who cite Native American heritage, including two minors who are only being identified as a John Doe and Jane Doe. Trachman said this is because the two are minors.

Eunice Davidson, a NAGA board member, said it’s important to recognize that not all Native Americans are in favor of the ban.

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“We would rather education that eradicate,” Davidson said. “This is cancel culture, and for whatever reason they’re trying to cancel out our heritage, our history.”

But still, many natives believe these mascots are disrespectful.

“It’s been proven that the language, the logos, the dehumanization, harms the mental health and stability of children,” said Simon Moya-Smith, an indigenous studies professor at the University of Colorado Denver.

While NAGA wants to toss out the law, Moya-Smith said this ban is a small step in the right direction to addressing systemic racism.

“Indigenous mascots enable racism and racist behavior, and that needs to stop,” Moya-Smith said. “It’s not okay to dehumanize indigenous peoples, it’s not ok to characterize us, or commodify us. The redskins, the headdress, all of it.”

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Next steps in this is for the state to respond to the lawsuit. CBS4 reached out to the governor’s office for a statement, but a spokesperson said they can’t comment on pending litigation.

Marissa Armas