Mascot bill advances to full House

By Marianne Goodland
State Capitol Correspondent

Indian mascot bill in House Education on Thursday
The bill to ban the use of Indian mascots in Colorado public schools and public colleges and universities took a major step forward on May 20. That’s when the House Education Committee approved Senate Bill 116 and sent it to the full House for debate.

Senate Bill 116 requires any public school with an Indian mascot to end its use by June 1, 2022 or face a $25,000 per month fine.
The bill grants exceptions to schools that have agreements with Native American tribes that existed prior to June 30, 2021.
Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Adams County, the bill sponsor, said the bill is long overdue. The rich culture and lives of Indian people should be honored and that is not through a depiction that makes them less than that, she told the committee.
Approximately 23 schools in Colorado still use an Indian mascot, including Yuma and Arickaree. Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs announced in January it was dropping its use of an Indian mascot.
Benavidez also noted that then-Gov. John Hickenlooper convened a task force in 2015, after a similar bill failed, to look at the use of Indian mascots.
The education committee listened to three hours of testimony on May 20. A dozen Yuma High School alumni, parents, students and community members pleaded with the committee to allow the school to continue its use of an Indian mascot.
Dan Ross, board president for the Yuma school district, told the committee that most school districts with Indian mascots use them in a proper and historic way. He pointed out that some school districts would not even be able to use the name of their town to associate with their school, including Yuma, Kiowa and Arickaree (although the bill does not ban a school from having a Native American name, only the use of a Native American mascot).
Ross also noted that none of the bill sponsors, including Sen. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, ever reached out to his district to talk about the issue. And the bill will put a financial burden on the Yuma school district, Ross claimed, perhaps as much as $250,000 to change the mascot and logos.
Yuma senior and class president John Smith talked about pride, tradition and respect and some of the school’s traditions around its Indian mascot. The citizens of Yuma have shown only respect for the mascot, and they will continue to do so, he said. “Our name as the Yuma Indians brings us together.”
Teacher Rory Lynch said that in his 19 years, he has never seen disrespect for the American Indian in the school, which is more than half minority. “It works because we respect each other and work together. As a team, our cultures are celebrated and shared.”
The testimony of the Yuma residents was countered by Native Americans who talked of the hurt that mascots have caused, calling it dehumanizing.
Dallin Maybee is Northern Arapaho. He said he has been mocked throughout his life for his heritage. He said Smith was correct about pride, tradition and respect, which comes from the community in which one is raised, but a mascot does not provide those things. A mascot is a caricature that dehumanizes a culture rich with diversity.
Donald Ragona of the Matinecock nation of New York has been part of the effort to get rid of the mascot in Denver for 30 years. The intolerance and harm perpetrated by Indian sports mascots or logos or symbols have real consequences for Native people, rather than honoring them, he told the committee. The use of racist, native mascots “trivializes us, our histories, our cultures, and our spirituality.”
Donna Chrisjohn and her brothers were athletes in school, but whenever they faced a school with an indigenous mascot, she and her brothers were taunted mocked, and even threatened by fans, parents, and other athletes. “Even our own classmates would ‘war whoop’ towards us,” she said. “Our school should be safe for all children from all backgrounds.”
The committee did hear from several Native Americans who support the use of mascots.
Mascots are not meant to discourage or dishonor people they’re meant to motivate and inspire, said Demetrius Marez, who is Dene (Navajo) and a 1993 graduate of Lamar High School, whose mascot, the Savage, has been a target for removal even from school alumni.
Marez described the Savage as a proud, honorable, and noble Indian chief, with his head held high. Savage is not offensive, dishonorable, derogatory or demeaning. “In fact, it is quite the opposite. He’s a proud warrior with strength and integrity. Do we not have real issues to be concerned about?” he asked.
Blake Mondell spoke on behalf of Lamar Proud, a coalition made up of American Indian teachers, students, community leaders, and over 130 Lamar high school alumni committed to ending the use of American Indian mascots in Colorado.
“We stand beside those American Indian members of the Lamar community who are forced to watch their peers dress up in sacred attire or in mocking displays and who are antagonized and have even been assaulted because of stereotypes that Lamar Savage perpetuates in our schools.” He noted other schools have had banners for athletic competitions stating “Scalp the Savages,” which he said has spread poison on the Eastern Plains. “There is no respectful way to appropriate another’s culture,” he said.
Mohawk and Ojibwe tribe member Raven Payment is a combat veteran of the US Navy. “I would wager that many of you sitting here, are men and women of religious faith” and that many support the  armed forces. She asked whether they would support a mascot that mocked their faith or was comprised of “stolen valor.” “I imagine most of you would be emphatically against such an image yet native mascots represent the same level of contempt for indigenous people.” Payment said she attended a school with an indigenous mascot. As an athlete, she was expected to participate in actions that are considered sacred and are symbols of honor and bravery. Her culture was minimized and demeaned into grotesque racist tropes “for the sake of sports.”
The bill was changed significantly during the May 20 hearing. That included removing the petition clause, which would have allowed citizens to file a ballot initiative to challenge the law. It was replaced by a safety clause, which means the bill becomes law upon the signature of the governor.
Benavidez said the change was necessary because the bill goes into effect in June, 2022. The next time a law such as SB 116 could be challenged in an election would be November, 2022.
In a nod to schools named after towns with an American Indian tribe name, such as Kiowa or Niwot, the mascot would be prohibited but the school could still use the tribe’s name, as well as on public school letterhead.
Finally, the bill was amended to allow schools that must change uniforms and other school materials with Indian mascots can apply for grants with the Department of Education under the “Build Excellent Schools Today” (BEST) program.
SB 116 cleared the education committee on a party-line 5-3 vote and now heads to the full House for debate.
With the 2021 session in its closing weeks, a big question remains: will both bills dealing with the conservation easement program receive approval, or will only one get to the governor’s desk?
House Bill 1233 has now cleared the House and will get its first Senate hearing in the next week. That bill would raise the tax credit limit on conservation easements from 50% of the land value to 90% and is seen as a way of sweetening the deal for landowners who have been wary about getting involved in the program. That’s due to years of claims by landowners that they were defrauded of tax credits by the Department of Revenue for more than a decade, and the negative publicity that followed.

The second bill, Senate Bill 33, which is backed by a state-authorized task force of landowners and land trust representatives, would provide reparations for landowners who have been denied their tax credits. 
However, while Democrats have pledged to help see the second bill reach the finish line, that did not mean that they agreed with the way the reparations are financed, and that has led to a delay in SB 33 getting to the Senate floor. The Department of Revenue has available $45 million per year in tax credits for the program, and the bill allows for a portion of that annual pot of money to be used for reparations until all claims are satisfied. The bill is awaiting action from the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Native American organization opposes Mascot bill
By The Yuma Pioneer
A Native American organization has stated its intend to sue the State of Colorado if the Colorado Legislature passes Senate Bill 116.
Senate Bill 116 requires any public school with an Indian mascot to end its use by June 1, 2022 or face a $25,000 per month fine.
The bill grants exceptions to schools that have agreements with Native American tribes that existed prior to June 30, 2021.
It passed the House Eduction Committee last week, and now will go before the full House for debate. It already has passed the Colorado Senate. The 2021 session will close soon after Memorial Day, so the legislature will have to move quickly if it wants to pass the bill and get it signed into law by Governor Jared Polis.
If that does come to pass, the Native American Guardian’s Association (NAGA) has stated it plans on taking that decision to court, based on the violation of certain Constitutional Amendment rights.
In a letter from its law firm dated May 18, to SB-116 author Jessie Danielson, and fellow state legislators Barbara McLachlan and Adrienne Benavidez, NAGA expressed its opposition to the bill. (YHS graduate Dave Finkenbinder, who is a member of the Sioux-Crow Creek tribe, first shared NAGA’s posting of its letter on its Facebook page with fellow YHS graduate Linda Jones, who alerted the Pioneer to the letter.)
The letter states that “NAGA is a non-profit litigation, education and public policy organization that focuses on increased education about Native Americans, especially in public educational institutions. NAGA seeks greater recognition of Native American heritage through high-profile venues of sports and other public venues.”
The organization reportedly partners with public schools across the country to help those schools eliminate stereotypical mascots and behavior, and develop respectful and culturally appropriate Native American logos, iconography and imagery.
The letter explains NAGA agrees that no person or nation of people should be a “mascot,” and opposes the use of mascot performers and caricatures such as “Chief Wahoo” and Lamar’s “Chief Ugh-Lee.”
However, the letter states NAGA’s motto is “education no eradicate.”
NAGA makes the case that SB 21-116 violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Citing case law, the organization argues that the bill infringes on a person’s First Amendment rights to be offensive.
It also argues that by enacting the law, “Colorado is declaring its disapproval of the Native American culture. Indeed, Colorado is discriminating against the very people it claims to be protecting by eliminating any discussion on the topic of Native American culture.”
NAGA’s letter also makes the case the legislation violates the 14th Amendment rights of Colorado Native Americans. The amendment shall not “deny to any person within its jurisdication the equal protection of laws.
The letter states NAGA believes the need to study history, not cancel, revise or eradicate it, in order to ensure that the victimization of Native Americans never happens again.
The letter tells the legislators that they are in a “unique position to help Colorado educate, not eradicate the proud history of Native Americans. Further, you can help your citizens understand why it’s so important that victimization of Native Americans never happens again. By voting against the passage of SB 21-116, Colorado will abide by federal law, avoid the discriminatory effects caused by the bill and also avoid being subject to the expensive costs of grievances or litigation pertaining to unconstitutional policies that cause harm as a result of Colorado’s unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. Because SB 21-116 impinges on the freedoms of speech and association, NAGA could not allow you(r) vote without voicing our opposition to it. For these reasons NAGA opposes SB 21-116 and urges you to vote ‘no’ on the passage of the bill.”
It just keeps getting more interesting.