Native American studies: Why the RHS mascot is controversial
Roseburg High School has used the feather and Native Americans as a mascot for decades now. Recently, however, there has been much more disagreement on whether or not it should be changed.”
— Makayla Gagliano
Native American tribes once presided over the vast mountains and valleys of Oregon. That was until white settlers came in and decided that the land the Native Americans once protected and loved had valuable resources. It was more important to the settlers that they took hold of all the resources the Natives had, rather than protecting the land that the Natives held so sacred to them. In the article “Broken Treaties: An Oral History Tracing Oregon’s Native Population,” authors Cain and Rosman of OPB quoted many Native Americans on the issue. “We have been here since time began,” Don Ivy, chief of the Coquille Indian Tribe, said. “We have been here since the first human got here.” Their traditions, rituals, lifestyles, and so much more were buried over just a few decades once the colonizers settled in the land. The vast lands that they cherished and looked after with care were reduced to a few square miles. Their land was not taken peacefully either. It was taken with extreme violence.
White settlers started to move in and make homes and villages on the land of the Native Americans. Don Gentry, the Tribal Council Chairman of The Klamath Tribes, stated: “Initially, the contact was positive with some of the traders but then the folks that wanted our land — you know, moved in — and there were clashes and loss of life on both sides.” The government had started to take their land before any treaties were signed. Denni Hockema, Cultural Anthropologist For The Coquille Indian Tribe, said, “They attacked them in the early morning while it was still dark. They burned all the houses and killed women and children. … They killed everybody.” The colonizers ruthlessly stole the lives and lands of the Native Americans. This is just a small part of the dark history of American colonization. With these stories taken into consideration, one can start to see the numerous ways the Roseburg High School mascot is controversial and why it should be changed.
Roseburg High School has used the feather and Native Americans as a mascot for decades now. Recently, however, there has been much more disagreement on whether or not it should be changed. When asked about their thoughts on the situation, a teacher from Roseburg High School could not say much due to the fact that they were told to not speak about the situation with the students. However, they stated that, “It’s a very complicated issue with multiple perspectives.”
Some do not see the problem in having at least the feather as a symbol for the school. However, the feather is deeply rooted in Native American culture and extremely important to them. It symbolizes the connection between the people and their creator. The feather can mean many things, Tristan Picotte from Native Partnership stated some of their meanings: “symbols of celebration…community, family, and friends…honoring a family member for the things they’ve done.”
With the significance of the feather, on top of the brutal history behind the Native Americans suffering at the hands of white colonizers, it is evident that the mascot is offensive to the Native American community. As one student from RHS stated, “I think it’s cultural appropriation and it would be best for it to be changed to something that encompasses our own culture and not someone else’s that we don’t properly respect.”
In April 2021, the school board held a vote to change the mascot. However, in October 2020, the voting procedure was changed. Instead of a majority vote, now it had to be unanimous, meaning that there had to be a unanimous vote in order to change the mascot. According to Sanne Godfrey of the the News-Review, “A policy that required unanimous vote for a facility name change has been around since 1982. The mascot name was added to this policy in 2020, when the school district revised several school policies.”
Before the voting began, the board heard different stories from those who this affects the most. According to the board meeting notes from August of 2020, Jessica Bascom, a Beaverton resident and Klamath tribe member spoke out. In the Board Meeting notes for August 6, 2020, it was stated that, “A 2002 RHS graduate, addressed the Board following up on her online petition to change the name of the RHS mascot, alleging that the pandemic of racism in our country is as deadly as COVID and expressed her opinion that a delay in responding to removing something she considers harmful to native youth was unacceptable.” Another story comes from a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. Amanda Mendoza spoke at the August 12, 2020 Board Meeting saying, “Roseburg has a reputation and history of being unaccepting of people outside of the dominant culture. Allowing the use of an ethnic group as the high school mascot has the potential to solidify that reputation for people.” Even with statements like these, it was not enough to change the mind of the one person who voted “no” on changing this controversial mascot, thus grinding the effort to a halt.
Every day that the mascot is supported is a day that the people are ignoring the voices of the Natives who have been through tough times simply because of their heritage. In order to stop this hate from spreading, it would be simpler if the mascot was changed to something that is not controversial. In the end, it would make the situation better by taking the stories of the Native Americans into consideration and having empathy for them.