A national debate over the use of American Indian names for school mascots landed at the Colorado legislature Monday when a committee debated a measure that would allow a panel to decide whether a school district's depiction of an Indian mascot is respectful.

A number of witnesses who testified on behalf of House Bill 1165mentioned the tribe they belonged to and how hurtful it was to be depicted as a caricature, particularly a big-nosed, loinclothed savage, and to watch students do war chants and tomahawk chops at sporting events.

"We are not a Halloween costume," one crying student said.

"I am not a mascot," another witness said.

But John Sampson, a school board member with Strasburg 31J, testified against the bill, saying the district has been called the Indians for decades and uses the name with honor.
And two board members of the Cheyenne Mountain School District in Colorado Springs asked why local control was being given over to a subcommittee. Their school mascot also is the Indians.

The House Education Committee voted 6-5 on a party-line vote to approve the measure by Reps. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and Jovan Melton, D-Aurora.

The bill would create the Subcommittee for the Consideration of the Use of American Indian Mascots by Public Schools that would meet and decide whether a school — from K-12 to higher education — with an Indian mascot could continue using it. Part of the determination is whether the district has developed a relationship with a tribe.

Salazar said he found it unlikely the panel would approve of the Lamar High School Savages.

Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, was among the "no" votes, saying the conversation was important but noting some schools and teams have changed repugnant mascots without legislative action.

Salazar and Melton opened with a slide show featuring offensive nicknames for other ethnic groups, including the N-word. They said those kind of team names would never be tolerated and neither should names like Redskins or Savages.

Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, demanded the slide show be turned off or she would leave. Fields, who is black, said she refused to sit in a committee with the N-word flashing on a screen.
Melton, who also is black, said it reinforced the point he and Salazar were trying to make, but the slide show was stopped.
Arapahoe High School students stand below a drawing of their mascot, the "Warrior," in one of the school’s gyms. Nearly two decades ago,
Arapahoe High School students stand below a drawing of their mascot, the "Warrior," in one of the school's gyms. Nearly two decades ago, Arapahoe developed a relationship with the Arapaho Nation on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, and its logo was drawn by an American Indian artist. (Denver Post file)
Salazar said his measure is modeled after schools "that have done it right," including the Arapahoe High School Warriors in Centennial. Nearly two decades ago, the school developed a relationship with the Arapaho Nation on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, and its logo was drawn by an Indian artist.

The tribe immediately reached out to Arapahoe High after a fatal school shooting on Dec. 13, 2013, and performed a cleansing ceremony before it reopened, parent Steve Haas tearfully testified when he spoke in favor of the bill.
Darius Smith with the Colorado Indian Education Foundation also testified in favor of the measure, saying developing tribal relationships is a positive thing.

But some witnesses said an American Indian name or mascot should never be used.
Salazar said the bill is "not designed to get rid of anything."

But districts that continue to use a mascot that the subcommittee has rejected eventually would face a monthly $25,000 fine, an idea that doesn't sit well with Rep. Tim Dore, R-Elizabeth.

"It's political correctness gone amuck," he said. "We're talking about schools struggling to make payroll and buy supplies, and this bill would fine schools, which ultimately penalizes the kids."
Salazar said some bill opponents have talked about the expense school districts would incur to change uniforms, redo gym floors and such, which is why his bill includes a $200,000 appropriation.



A similar mascot measure was introduced in 2010 but was withdrawn by the sponsor, then-Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora. She said she no longer believed legislation was needed to highlight the issue.

At the time, schools defended their use of the names. For example, Yuma High School officialsexplained they used to be the Cornhuskers, but the name was changed early last century to honor American Indians. The principal at the time was steeped in American Indian history and traditions.

Some Colorado teams have already dropped their American Indian monikers.
Arvada High School switched from Redskins to the Reds in 1993, and the school stopped using its Indian mascot and adopted a bulldog.

The University of Southern Colorado — now Colorado State University-Pueblo — transformed from the Indians to the Thunderwolves in 1995, and Adams State College in Alamosa switched from the Indians to the Grizzlies in 1996.

Among the high school team names Salazar finds the most offensive: the Lamar Savages, the La Veta Redskins and the Eaton Reds, also known as the Fightin' Reds, where the mascot is an Indian with a misshapen nose, eagle feather and loincloth.

Eaton made national news in 2002 when a multiracial intramural team at the University of Northern Colorado lampooned it. The UNC crew called its team the Fightin' Whities, which featured a caricature of a middle-aged white guy with the phrase "Ever-hang's gonna be all white!"

Lynn Bartels: 303-954-5327, lbartels@denverpost.com or twitter.com/lynn_bartels
Staff writer Yesenia Robles contributed to this report.