SALT LAKE CITY — A resolution inspired by Bountiful High School’s decision to reconsider its “Braves” mascot that would have encouraged other K-12 public schools with Native American-related mascots to follow suit failed to pass a Tuesday vote in the Utah House of Representatives.
Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 3. She is a graduate of Bountiful High and announced the legislation outside the school on Nov. 30 — the same day Principal Aaron Hogge said in a video that the school would begin the process of selecting a new mascot.
“I’m excited that they chose that process and went through it and are now retiring to choose a new mascot,” Weight said.
She continued, “Native American mascots and the lack of education about them in our state are hurtful to all of our students. Native American mascots often are disrespected, or even dehumanized, but even our white students, and I’m one of them, go through 12 years of education in Utah with little or no understanding of the people who inhabited the lands where our schools now sit.”
In addition to suggesting schools with a Native American mascot consider retiring it, the resolution also encouraged the Utah State Board of Education and local education agencies to adopt curriculum that includes instruction on the history, culture and traditions of Native Americans.
According to a fact sheet posted to the Legislature’s website that was used during the House Education Committee’s consideration of the measure, the resolution was endorsed by the Navajo Nation and leaders from the Ute Mountain Ute and Shoshone tribes.
“There are some negative connotations that is received by native students. It affects their academics, their spiritual and their social standings,” said Virgil Johnson, a Goshute shaman who formerly served as a tribal chairman, during the House Education Committee’s discussion of the resolution.
He went on, “So we need to bring that to the attention that those mascots that are being used are derogatory, and they’re harmful and they’re perpetuating stereotypes that have been around in this country for a long time.”
The resolution passed out of the House Education Committee with a vote of 6-5, with four absent.
Johnson is among the multiple Native Americans who Weight said helped draft the resolution. That support from Native Americans living in Utah, however, was challenged by some of the representatives who spoke in opposition to the legislation.
Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, represents a district which, according to a state Legislature profile, is 21% American Indian. He said when it comes to Native Americans being used as mascots, there is not a consensus within the indigenous community.
“I would love if we could see what those names and those symbols represent and educate people more on them rather than erasing those things,” Lyman said. “I think it’s a great source of pride for many, many Native Americans. And I certainly don’t speak for them, and they don’t speak for one another. They all have their own individual feelings about it.”
Another legislator, Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, questioned the reasoning behind the legislation not including provisions for schools that have mascots of other ethnicities, like the Ben Lomond High School Scots. Weight said that consideration was never made, but that every school has the ability to consider whether it has made a “conscious, respectful” decision in choosing its mascot.
Others challenged the decision not to include universities in the legislation, referring to the University of Utah’s use of the Ute name. The university currently has a memorandum of understanding with the Ute Indian Tribe, allowing it to use the name for its athletics department as long as it upholds certain agreements, including increasing indigenous students’ access to higher education.
Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Salt Lake City, responded by saying that schools shouldn’t just take the names for themselves, and “I don’t believe it should be contractual unless the tribe enters into that.”
The resolution ultimately failed in a vote of 27-45.
In a statement following the vote, Weight wrote she was disappointed in the decision, saying, “Many of my colleagues still do not comprehend the hostility and harm of school mascots that disparage Native Americans.”