Tom addresses Native mascots issue before state Board of Education
By Dean Rhodes
Smoke Signals editor
SALEM -- Tribal Council member Kathleen Tom was among 36 people who testified before the state Board of Education at the state Capitol on Friday, April 27, regarding a proposed ban on Native American mascots in Oregon.
Tom said the Grand Ronde Tribe, one of Oregon’s nine federally recognized Tribes, opposes “trying to implement a one size fits all solution to the nine individual sovereign Tribal governments in Oregon.”
“As a Tribe, we have made a commitment to dedicate ourselves to building positive government-to-government relationships across all levels of government,” Tom said. “We are proud of the strides that we have made over the years, and are equally proud of the state of Oregon and their efforts to build and maintain these relationships.
“… We believe strongly that this is an issue that is best resolved with our own local school districts to make sure they accurately and respectfully portray Native culture. We have been able to deal with these situations at the local level, with respect and sensitivity to our Tribal students, all students, our Tribal citizens and all citizens within our shared communities.
“The key to our relationships with all levels of government in the future is through educational outreach. We would suggest to the board that we move past this issue and on to something that truly could make a difference for the benefit of Tribes and Oregonians alike.
“Let’s take a strong look at teaching all of Oregon’s students about the history and culture of Oregon’s nine unique, sovereign governments. The fact is that if more people were educated about Tribal history, society and culture, it would do much more to solve the problems of Indian mascots than simply outlawing the practice.”
At the May 1 Legislative Action Committee meeting, Tribal Vice Chair Reyn Leno complimented Tom on her testimony.
“I think Kathy did a good job delivering her testimony,” Leno said.
Both Tom and Leno reiterated the Grand Ronde Tribe’s long-standing request that Oregon Tribal history be incorporated into statewide curriculum requirements.
Leno said they put state Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo on the spot regarding that request.
“One of the highlights of her testimony was when it arose that Castillo tried to say they were doing something,” Leno said. “Kathy reminded her that she’s been here years and I was sitting in the audience and she actually said, ‘Well, our vice chair has been here 14 years,’ and we haven’t seen anything.”
“I think I did put Susan Castillo on the spot,” Tom said. “We’ve heard this talk and we’ve heard this talk, and I’ve been on here for nine years and our vice chair for 14, and we’re still talking about this. Something needs to get done.”
Castillo reportedly said that including Native history in statewide curriculum requirements is still being examined.
Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy said that she thinks high school mascots are meant to inspire teams and not insult Native Tribes.
“We still believe that if you truly want to honor the Tribes of Oregon then put us in your history books,” Kennedy said. “That’s what we need is that sincere education; that gesture of recognizing who we are and honoring who we are. That will say monuments about Native American Tribes.
“We don’t support eliminating mascots because we don’t believe that these schools are disparaging us. They wouldn’t name their school ‘We’re Losers’ or ‘We’re Slugs.’ You are trying to inspire your team and your school.”
The Lebanon Express reported that Leno told state Rep. Sherrie Sprenger (R-Scio) that he does not object to Native mascots, such as the Lebanon Warriors.
“That’s the position of the Tribe and my own personal position both,” Leno said. “We have a lot of concern about why our Tribal kids are telling our histories in schools and why our teachers are not teaching our histories in schools.”
The state Board of Education is still accepting citizen input at ODE.NativeAmericanMascots@state.or.us.
The board also will hear public comments until noon at the next meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday, May 17, at the Oregon Department of Education, 255 Capitol St. N.E., in Salem.