Yuma school drop mascot after Colorado bans “Indians” name

Yuma public schools’ sports teams will be known as just that — not the Aggies, not the Yetis, not the Pioneers, just Yuma — for the foreseeable future after dropping the “Indians” mascot this year.

The Yuma School District Board of Education voted unanimously Feb. 28 to drop the name and be in compliance with a Colorado law signed in 2021 that prohibits public schools from using American Indians as mascots. The school board spent months debating and soliciting feedback on new names, but no clear frontrunner emerged, Board President Duane Brown said.

“As a board we decided to just heal from having to eliminate ‘Indians’ and that image from our mascot, and take some time to select a new one,” Brown said.

Staff are already in the process of painting over and removing their old logos and other symbolism, he said.

Yuma is one of 14 school districts throughout the state working to comply with the law. The law allows for districts to partner with federally recognized tribes on the imagery, but Brown said his district wasn’t able to reach an agreement with any.

Using Native Americans as mascots often reduces them to caricatures, advocates for the change say, and doesn’t recognize them as people who live here. The American Psychological Association has called for ending the use of American Indians as mascots since 2005, citing negative effects on all students, particularly American Indian young people.

A tribe can give its approval for schools to use Native American imagery for their mascots if it feels the partnership would foster education, goodwill and cultural understanding. Littleton Public Schools reached such an agreement with the Arapaho Nation in 1993 to continue using its Arapahoe Warrior moniker. Strasburg School District did the same with representatives of the Northern Arapaho Tribe.

The Yuma district spent months sending out surveys to community members on new mascots, and used a ranked-choice voting system to decide on the new one, Brown said. “No mascot” was the top pick for respondents as their first, second and third choice, he said. It beat out proposed nicknames of the Bison, Aggies, Pioneers, and Yetis.

“Given that, we didn’t want to do something that lacked broad community support,” Brown said.

“Indians” had been Yuma schools’ mascot for 85 years. Officials were aware of the discussion around no longer using people or ethnic groups as mascots, but he said they didn’t expect to have less than a year to get into compliance.

The law gives districts until June 1 to get into compliance, under threat of a monthly $25,000 fine, but following the meeting schedule of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs effectively moves that up by several months, he said. That commission is meeting next week to vote on if the schools are in compliance. Its next meeting isn’t until May 19.

“Blindsided would be too strong a word, but we did not anticipate this law would come and give us a year to eliminate our mascot that we’d had for 85 years,” Brown said.

So they decided to postpone replacing it. The schools could go without a mascot for a year, or even longer, Brown said.

Montrose students to become the Red Hawks and the Bears

Some districts have found new mascots. In Montrose, the high school will go from the Indians to the Red Hawks, while the Centennial Middle School Braves are now the Bears, Montrose County school district spokesperson Matt Jenkins said.

They started with the process in June, soon after the bill was signed into law.

“Change is difficult, but our community really came together in the spirit of collaboration,” Jenkins said.

Jacob Price, a school psychologist for the district and a member of Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, helped work on the transition. He had long been involved with advocating against using indigenous people as mascots back through at least his graduate school days at San Diego State University, which goes by the Aztecs.

“I just didn’t feel that it was a tribute or an honor for a school to be called the Indians when we’re on former native land,” Price said.

It didn’t help that neither the headdress the mascot wore nor the totem pole on the school’s football field were traditional parts of Ute culture, the native people with historic ties to the land.

While some in the community pushed against the change, many joined the collaboration, Price said. The students in particular shone, he and Jenkins said.

One middle school student even had the idea of changing that school mascot to the Bears so they could keep much of their motivational acronym behind “BRAVES” intact, Jenkins said.

“In Montrose, we’re a small town,” Jenkins said. “We’re a Western Slope community, where the school mascot is really part of the texture and the fabric of the community. We worked together to collaborate on this change, and not one person chose arbitrarily what the new mascot would be.”

As for community members who want to hang onto the old moniker, they’ll be able to bid on leftover memorabilia, including the totem pole, at an auction planned for when the weather warms this spring, Jenkins said.

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