PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Gov. John Kitzhaber is ready to veto a bill that loosens a ban on the use of Native American mascots by Oregon schools.
The governor’s office said Wednesday that Kitzhaber has provided the required five-day notice that he might veto three bills from the recently completed legislative session. One of them is Senate Bill 215, which allows schools with nicknames such as the Indians, Braves or Chieftains to keep their names and mascots if they get permission from the nearest tribe.
The governor said in a late-in-the-session memo to legislative leaders that the bill is too broad. Rather than allowing the use of generic names such as Indians, he prefers an approach in which schools could use the specific name of a tribe with permission, such as the Florida State Seminoles.
Legislators took up the issue in response to the state Board of Education’s decision last year to cut state funding to schools that fail to retire their Native American mascots by July 2017. The board’s action, which gave Oregon one of the nation’s toughest restrictions, followed months of emotional debate about tolerance and tradition.
The House and Senate each approved SB215 by veto-proof margins. But the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, does not believe the Democrat-led chambers will override the veto.
“At the end of the day, Democrats are not going to poke him in the eye,” Kruse said. “I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.”
If the governor does veto the bill, the topic likely will arise when the Legislature meets next year. Kitzhaber’s memo said he hopes leaders can come up with a proposal by next year that provides “reasonable exceptions to the ban without violating the Board’s obligation to prohibit discrimination in education.”
Since the 1970s, more than 600 high school and college teams across the country have done away with their Native American nicknames, including 20 in Oregon. Critics say Indian mascots reinforce stereotypes and promote bullying of Native students.
The Board of Education’s decision affected 15 high schools. Eight must change their nickname and logo. Another seven schools identified as the Warriors can keep their nickname, but must change their mascots or graphics that depict Native Americans.
Jim Thomas is superintendent of the Reedsport School District, home to a team called the Braves. He said the district has considered alternate nicknames — including the singular Brave — but has yet to come up with a cost estimate for switching the name on everything from uniforms to letterhead. With the district struggling with cuts because of declining enrollment, it’ll have an impact, he said.
“We haven’t had any real opposition to our mascot,” Thomas said. “It’s an issue the community is very concerned about, obviously. It’s been here forever, and (the ban) is a pretty sore subject.”