BOUNTIFUL — It was inevitable that Bountiful High’s mascot, the Braves, would be the subject of debate and conversation, given national, regional and local trends of schools and sports teams distancing themselves from Native American mascots and imagery.
Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians and the Washington NFL team have faced pressure in recent years to change their mascots.
Cleveland disbanded the use of its Chief Wahoo insignia two years ago while Washington recently announced it will review its mascot as major retailers pull Washington product off of their websites and shelves.
The Native American references are easy to find at Bountiful High, from the school’s various logos over the years, to students doing the “tomahawk chop” at basketball and football games, to those same students shouting “home of the Braves!” instead of “home of the brave” at the end of the national anthem.
A stairway leading from a parking lot up to the football and baseball fields features several murals, including one that says “Fight Like a Brave”with a feathered axe next to it.
The football ticket shed, located at the top of the stairs, features two murals of Native Americans, with one featuring a silhouette of a Native American on horseback at sunset.
Bountiful High alumni Mallory Rogers and Mykayla Rogers (no relation) have started a dialogue about the school’s mascot and have opened an online petition to change the school’s mascot, which has been in place since the school opened in 1951.
They termed the mascot as racist and offensive.
“Really, my biggest hope is we can start a discussion, we can have a conversation about the implications of using a Native person as a mascot and we can talk about the impact that that has on Native American youth,” Mallory Rogers said.
The petition, posted on July 4, had 1,567 signatures as of Wednesday morning. The petition has received support from local Native Americans and advocacy groups.
“Our highest goal right now is to get other voices especially within current students of Bountiful High School and Native Americans currently living within the Bountiful area,” Mykayla Rogers said.
Both women, who graduated from BHS in 2013, told the Standard-Examiner they’re troubled with some of the traditions that have gone on at Bountiful High over the years — things like students wearing Native American headdresses, putting war paint on their faces for football games and performing the tomahawk chop at football and basketball games.
“Our experiences are in the past and the past can’t change, but we’re hoping we can change something about the future,” Mallory Rogers said.
The Utah League of Native American Voters issued a press release Tuesday that stated the group was pleased to hear about the effort to change the mascot and is supporting the movement.
“Native mascots are harmful and antiquated; they have no place in our society. Mascots are generalized depictions, often characterized poorly, that dehumanize the hundreds of Native nations and their members,” part of the release read. “Native Americans rarely have the power to make the decisions to keep or discharge Native mascots. These decisions were often made by whites years ago and are maintained by whites today. Native mascots are an issue in the white community but that affects Natives adversely.”
The debate surrounding the Bountiful Braves particularly exploded Monday when Mallory Rogers posted screenshots of email responses she had received from Bountiful mayor Randy Lewis, Davis School District superintendent Reid Newey, Bountiful High assistant principal Doug Hammerschmidt and Davis School District Board president John Robison.
Among mostly boilerplate responses, Newey and Robison indicated that a mascot change would be a school-level process, though the mechanism for such a change is unclear.
The next scheduled DSD board meeting is July 14. An agenda for the meeting hasn’t been posted as of Wednesday.
Hammerschimdt, writing that BHS principal Aaron Hogge was out over the holiday weekend, wrote to Rogers that the “administrative team” is currently discussing the mascot.
It’s unknown if Hammerschmidt was referring to Bountiful’s administration or the Davis School District’s administration. It’s also unclear what sort of dialogue has taken place regarding the mascot and for how long.
Hammerschmidt didn’t respond to a request for clarification.
The photo attached to Rogers’ petition depicts a silhouette of a Native American person against a dark red backdrop.
It’s the same photo that Bountiful High’s official Facebook page had used as its profile for one year and nine months until Tuesday morning when it was changed to reflect the red ‘B’ with two feathers, which is the school’s logo.
Lewis gave a response, which prompted plenty of engagement on social media.
“This is the mayor, are you an indigenous person? Are you their official spokesman? If you are not an official representative critic of the “braves” (not brave), do you have evidence that the indigenous people are offended by Bountiful High,” Lewis emailed to Mallory Rogers. “I have lived here for 41 years and I have had 6 children graduate from Bountiful High and none of them are embarrassed to have gone there to school.”
The message continued.
“This sounds a lot like sheep mentality that follows the (Black Lives Matter) movement. Now is a good time to pile on. Oh and I attended the BLM gathering in Bountiful. I believe we all need to be less easily offended about many things.”
Lewis didn’t return a message from the Standard-Examiner seeking clarification on his comments. In a letter obtained by ABC Channel 4 in Salt Lake City, Lewis indicated he had apologized for his initial comments.
Lewis’ letter couldn’t be found on any Bountiful City website or official communication channel. The Bountiful City Council’s next scheduled meeting is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 14, at the South Davis Metro Fire Station.
The petition and movement to change Bountiful’s mascot has received many responses, both supporting and detracting.
Utah Rep. Elizabeth Weight (D-Salt Lake City), who is an alumnus of Bountiful High, called on students, staff and graduates to try to change the mascot.
Darren Parry, a democratic candidate for Utah’s 1st Congressional District seat, posted a social media message Wednesday saying, in part, “If you want to learn from Native American communities and communities of color, please take the time to listen and learn.”
Parry is the chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.
There’s plenty of support for keeping the current mascot as is, and plenty of people saying that Bountiful’s depiction of the mascot isn’t offensive and shouldn’t be viewed as such.
A petition started by another BHS alumnus to keep the mascot had garnered 2,505 signatures as of Wednesday morning, a significantly larger number than the petition to change the mascot.
“The community has rallied behind their Braves for nearly 70 years. Honoring and celebrating the Native American culture that we have the pleasure of living around as Utahns. Now they want to replace it because they think that some could see it as offensive,” wrote the petitioner, Brett Baker. “Changing this the school mascot would rob the community of education and awareness about the Native American community. Stand with us in our fight to keep our mascot. We do not use this name to offend or degrade, but to honor the Native American culture and impact on our society and recognize that we are all one people!”