Mascot meeting

School Board member Mary Mello addresses a small group during the Teton School Board working meeting on July 16. Members of the public broke into small groups to discuss the Teton High School mascot.

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes have submitted a position paper to the Idaho State Board of Education asking that the governor and state Legislature “take a stand and establish state policy to prohibit public schools from using these types of names as school mascots,” including savages, redskins, and Indians.

The Idaho Statesman acquired the document, which was submitted June 13, through a public information request.

On June 26, tribal spokesperson Randy’L Teton said at a public forum in Driggs that the tribe was looking to launch a statewide effort to eliminate the use of Native Americans and Native American imagery from public schools. In follow-up conversations with the Teton Valley News, Teton said that the tribe hadn’t discussed the statewide initiative as of July 19, three days after the Teton County School Board voted to eliminate the use of the name Redskin from Teton High School. She said in a July 19 text message to the Teton Valley News that the tribe had only identified schools that use Native American names as mascots.

“The tribe wrote the paper before working with the Teton School Board and the Driggs community on their Redskins mascot,” Teton said to the Statesman.

“After months of divisive debate, tearful testimony and meetings that stretched long into the night, she said the tribe wants to work with schools, not against them,” the Statesman reported.

Teton did not immediately return a request for comment from the Teton Valley News.

The three-page letter reads that the Fort Hall Business Council, the governing body for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, “officially oppose the use of racial misappropriations of the terms referring to Native Americans. It is disheartening to see that in 2019 the racial controversy continues.”

The letter further refutes the notion that using such mascots “honors” Indian people and “is grossly inaccurate,” a position that many in Teton Valley have used to work to keep the Redskin mascot.

In the position paper the tribe identifies eight high schools that use Native American mascots including Pocatello High School, Salmon, Riggins, Shoshone, Preston, Buhl and Boise High School who uses the mascot, the Braves.

The Statesman reported that the position paper did not include the “Warriors of Meridian and Kootenai, nor the Nezperce Indians.” Teton told the Statesman, “the tribe worked from a directory of Idaho schools on the state activities association’s website and could have missed some.”

“The tribe’s position paper also asked the State Board to require mandatory Native American history in its high schools, not just in elementary school. It offered its own tribal education and cultural staff to assist developing those classes and diversity training,” the Statesman reported.

The tribe offered those types of educational assistance to the Teton County School District during mascot discussion in Driggs.

It was five months ago that a member of the public asked that the Teton County School Board take up the idea of changing the Redskin name. It was six years this month that the school board took up the discussion that had been tabled in 2013.

Since March, the community has responded in a variety of ways to the impending mascot decision as students hosted walk-outs at the high school to support the name, while the student newspaper changed its name from the War Cry to distance itself from the word Redskin. In June, two independent community forums were hosted, one with the Native American Guardians Association, a pro-Redskin nonprofit and another forum called the Native American Perspective where a panel of participating Native American members said the mascot should change.

The school board hosted two meeting in July which showcased the emotional divide in Teton County with many community members crying out that because they use the word Redskin, that did not make them racist. Community members, often dressed in “Save the Redskin” t-shirts, asked the school board to not change the mascot, that their financial support for the district would be pulled from levy and bonds votes if the mascot was changed.

The Save the Redskin group has maintained the position that, “We have a right to name our schools, teams, and clubs, anything we choose. Banning a trademark, whether registered or not, violates our First Amendment right to free speech. The Washington Redskins won the lawsuit against them on this basis. The fight has been fought and has been won,” read a newsletter from the group.

The local debate even saw state Rep. Chad Christensen (R-Ammon) put his weight behind the issue as he attended Save the Redskin rallies and wrote a letter to the Teton County School Board asking them not to change the mascot. In a recent Facebook post, Christensen wrote, “This lawmaker won’t be helping the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe.”

After the Teton School Board agreed to retire the Redskin mascot in a 4-1 vote last week, the National Congress of American Indians posted a thank you to Teton High School for retiring its mascot.

The July 16 decision also eliminated the use of taxpayer funds to remove the Redskin name while setting the stage for the board to create a plan to accomplish that goal with community input, said a press release issued by the district last week.

Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme said the one-time cost estimate to replace “Redskin” in the district is $30,000 which would include removing and replacing district-provided signage and equipment, including athletic uniforms.

This Tuesday, the board will host another meeting to look at the next steps after the decision. In a press release issued by the Teton School District, the meeting will be held at 6 p.m. July 30 at the Driggs Elementary School. The board will again divide up community members into small groups for a more focused conversation with the public.