Board discusses mascot bill

The Native American mascot bill currently in the Colorado Senate was a main topic of discussion during the Yuma School District-1 Board of Education’s regular monthly meeting, Monday night at the district office in downtown Yuma.
Board members Dan Ross and Thomas Holtorf attended in-person, while Duane Brown did so virtually. Kim Langley and Lindsey Galles were absent.

Among others in attendance were Yuma resident Lee Roubideaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, and his wife Teresa. Those two, along with Brown, were some of just five who spoke in opposition of Senate Bill 116 during a Senate Education Committee meeting earlier this month.
Superintendent Dianna Chrisman reported that there was going to be a virtual meeting this past Tuesday with the Rural Schools Alliance and school districts that have concerns with Senate Bill 116. She said the hope is the meeting will result in outlining potential options for districts that want to keep their mascot.
“We have a lot of work to do, but we don’t know yet what that work will be,” she said.
Chrisman also stressed that Yuma-1 has been aware of concerns about Native American mascots for quite some time, and felt it was meeting the recommendations of a task force formed by former Governor John Hickenlooper a few years ago.
However, the current Senate Bill 116 was only introduced in late February.
“We have been watching this, and when there was a bill in place, we jumped into action,” Chrisman said.
Brown noted that the bill is a product of the national focus on social justice and systemic racism over the past year. He also noted that no schools with a Native American mascot were ever invited to the meetings among those who formulated the bill before it was introduced.
He said that the Yuma contingents appearance at the Senate Education Committee meeting at least opened people’s eyes to the fact there are those that would be adversely impacted by the legislation.
As for the bill itself, it passed out of the Education Committee on a 5-2 vote. It has since languished on the Senate floor as it has not yet come before the full Senate. Brown said state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg told him the bill does have some issues, but that it is not going away. If passed by the full Senate, it then will go to the state House, where it again will be voted on by the House Education Committee, and if passed, will move to the full House. Brown said Sonnenberg told him he will do all he can to help.
Chrisman said the district has received a lot of feedback from people in support of keeping the Indians mascot, and see it as a sign of pride and recognition of Native Americans.
As of now, the bill calls for all K-12 schools in Colorado to stop using Native American mascots by October 1, 2021, and a penalty of $25,000 per month kicks in by June 1, 2022.
Brown said he told the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, when at the state capitol that there was no way Yuma could meet the October 1 deadline, considering having to change all uniforms and many other things. He asked that would at least be moved to the June 1, 2022 deadline.
There is uncertainty if the amendments currently tied to the bill will stick with it through to the end. One amendment does allow for schools to form a partnership with a federally-recognized Native American tribe. Chrisman said there are 42 tribes recognized with a Colorado connection, including the Rosebud Sioux. She noted, though, that any such agreement would be solely at the discretion of the tribe, which could pull out of it at anytime.
“Right now I think it’s our best option,” Chrisman said. “…it might be a dead end, but it’s our best option right now.”

Lee Roubideaux said he has reached out to the president of the Rosebud Sioux Council, whom he went to school with growing up, but has not heard back from him. He added, though, that there are other council members, so it might come down to contacting them, perhaps even with a visit to the reservation in South Dakota.
Chrisman reported there is a YHS graduate that is a member of another recognized Tribe, and that person also was working on beginning a conversation with that tribe.
There was some discussion about Native American history in the curriculum. Chrisman said Colorado has some, but it is not expansive. Brown said it is not Sen. Danielson’s job to tell the district how to do its curriculum.
Ross said he did not grow up in Yuma, but the “Tribe Pride” was unbelievable when he did move here. “It was fun to come here and see that kind of pride,” he said, adding that his fear is that getting rid of all Native American mascots will lead to completely forgetting about the people.
Teresa Roubideaux acknowledged the many serious issues faced by Native Americans, particularly those living on reservations, such as higher suicide rates among youth. She said taking away mascots is not going to change those challenges.
Lee Roubideaux said he agrees that some mascots should be eliminated, but Yuma’s mascot is treated with respect.
Yuma Activities Director Michael Dischner, a Yuma native and YHS alum, said there has been a lot of support for keeping the Yuma mascot.
“You see that pride and tradition, it’s really scary to see that possibly go away,” he said. “It would devastate me if it had to go away.
Holtorf thanked everyone who took the time to go to the Senate Education Committee hearing.
“I hope it’s not going to be in vain,” he said.
The district plans on having a larger community meeting on the issue in the near future.