Springs-area schools seek path forward on Native American names, symbols

A student dressed as Cheyenne Mountain’s Indian mascot, cheers during the Cheyenne Mountain game against Broomfield in the state championship match in 2014. Cheyenne Mountain, the defending champion, defeated Broomfield 2 — 0.

The Cheyenne Mountain Board of Education considered a draft proposal Monday night that recommends the "immediate retirement" of Native American names and imagery in the school district, including its controversial mascot.

If approved, the resolution would retire the "Indian" as the high school's mascot and team name, and require the removal of nicknames, images, logos, and school materials containing such names or images by Aug. 1. It would also ban the use of phrases such as "smoke signals," "pow wow," "tribe" and other "instances of Native American appropriation."

Additionally, the resolution would require the superintendent to create a committee to recommend new mascots and team names, giving "due consideration to the initial team name, the Mountaineers." The name may have been the mascot's name in the 1930s, Cooper said.

The use of Native American imagery "interferes with the educational experiences of members of our community," according to the draft. The document also cites the "damaging effects" of such imagery, according to professional associations, the American Psychological Association's calling for an immediate retirement of such mascots, and the district's own nondiscrimination/equal opportunity policy.

The governor of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, Reggie Wassana, has stated in writing that the tribes have not, to his knowledge, "endorsed a Native American name or figure for the Cheyenne Mountain School District and that the tribe's position is that they would not grant permission even with certain conditions," the draft states, dispelling rumors to the contrary.

Another review of the draft is scheduled for the board's Oct. 12 work session, according to Superintendent Walt Cooper.

"I imagine there will be some substantive changes recommended to this draft, but what those changes might be, I don't know," Cooper said in a Monday evening email to The Gazette.

The draft proposal was discussed at an evening meeting and work session, at which members of the public were allowed to attend via phone, or in person if wearing a face mask. Those speaking at the meeting typically did not identify themselves before making comments. 

One board member said the board, by discussing the draft, was moving too quickly and without sufficient information.

To "shut off everything immediately is way too fast," he said, adding that he needed more information, including answers to the questions, "Why do people have mascots at all?" and "Are we going to change the name 'Cheyenne,' too? Where does it stop?"

Another board member said mascots are intended to be "fun for high school kids to rally around." In the case of the district's mascot, "I think that was probably the case 20, 30, 40 years ago, but not now," he said.

Another individual referenced so-called Indian boarding schools, established in the U.S. in the 1800s to assimilate Native Americans into Western culture, saying the tearing-away of native children from their families was "acceptable then. It's not acceptable now."

Another said the conversation surrounding the mascot had been "very educational" for her and that the issue was a microcosm of a "national conversation" over racial injustices.

Nearly 40 people signed on to a virtual school board meeting last month to decry the district's use of what they called an offensive mascot. Almost all who offered comments pushed for the district to drop the school's use of the mascot, which many said objectifies a group of people.

"By making a human being your mascot, you're setting a tone for superiority — that it's okay to marginalize people of color and indigenous people," Stephanie Morphet-Tepp, a former student, told the board last month. "I would encourage you to be on the right side of history."

An earlier statement by the school board noted "it's clearly time to revisit the issue" of the mascot. 

"This conversation is a high priority, and we need to be thoughtful and deliberate in how we move forward," according to that statement. "At present, however, our attention is necessarily focused on how to most effectively and safely deliver instruction to our students during the pandemic."

Cooper at that time also referred to a document that stated that former principal Lloyd 'Pappy' Shaw, who worked in the district from 1916-1951, had "a great appreciation for Native American culture and art, and for the values on which this culture was based."

"It is in the spirit of Pappy Shaw's legacy and his appreciation for Native American culture that we continue to proudly display the name Indians," the document stated.

In 2016 the district eliminated the practice of the "tomahawk chop," a hand motion students and other enthusiasts made during football games. It also banned war-painted faces, feathered headdresses and other Native American apparel that some supporters wore to athletic events.

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