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Native American mascots could be banned from Colorado schools by October

Bill sponsored by state Rep. Barbara McLachlan clears House 40-24
State Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, is sponsoring a bill that would prohibit K-12 schools and colleges in Colorado from using Native American mascots – and fine them for violations. (Durango Herald file)

State House lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill that would prohibit K-12 schools and colleges from using Native American mascots – and fine them for violations. The bill is close to becoming law.

Sen. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, sponsored Senate Bill 116 with Democratic Reps. Adrienne Benavidez of Denver and Barbara McLachlan of Durango. It would ban any “name, symbol or image that depicts or refers to an American Indian tribe, individual, custom or tradition that is used as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead or team name for the school.”

Public K-12 schools would have until Oct. 1 of this year to comply with the bill’s requirements, while institutions of higher education would have until June 1, 2022, to change their mascots. After those respective deadlines, a school could be fined $25,000 for each month it continues to violate the ban. The money would go to the State Education Fund.

“I ask you for my ancestors, for my Indigenous brothers and sisters, to support this bill,” Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, a Denver Democrat who identifies as Chicana, urged colleagues on the House floor.

The bill would create an exemption for public schools that have agreements in place prior to June 1 with federally recognized Native American tribes. Such an agreement would need to foster goodwill, emphasize education and support “a curriculum that teaches American Indian history, and encourages a positive cultural exchange.”

Schools operated by a Native American tribe or with the tribe’s approval that are located within an Indian reservation would also be exempt.

Rep. Tim Geitner, a Falcon Republican who serves as the House assistant minority leader, argued that the bill amounted to an “unfunded mandate” for public schools.

“If we look at Arapahoe High School, they estimate that their cost for changing their mascot is $1 million,” Geitner said on the House floor Wednesday. “Strasburg School District 31J, they estimate their cost of changing (at) $500,000.”

Geitner brought an amendment that would have given districts more time to comply with the legislation, but it was voted down by a majority of lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Benavidez rejected the notion that the bill used the “stick approach” by threatening fines to get schools into compliance.

“I will tell you what the stick approach is,” she said. “It is literally saying to sovereign nations that you can no longer publicly or even privately carry on your ceremonies, your spiritual beliefs.” That’s what the U.S. – a country “built on racism” – did to American Indian tribes, Benavidez said.

The bill passed on a vote of 40-24 in the House, with no Republican support.

Senate lawmakers will have to approve House changes to SB 116 before it heads to the desk of Democratic Gov. Jared Polis for his signature.

For more stories from Colorado Newsline, visit www.coloradonewsline.com.

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