Most Colorado schools with Native American mascots will avoid fines, for now

Updated 12:50 a.m. Friday, May 20, 2022.

The Lamar School District voted to change the name of Lamar High School from “Savages” to “Thunder” following the Colorado Indian Commission’s decision not to approve their plan to retain their mascot name. The move was made “to ensure the district immediately complies with the law,” according to a statement posted on the Lamar School District’s Facebook page.

Lamar School District superintendent Chad Krug said they offered to change their name to “Savage Thunder.” They thought “savage” as an adverb instead of a noun circumvented the problematic nature of the word.

“We never intended to game the system,” Krug said. “Our goal was to try to merge two very complex things, the law with the local.”

Krug said when the board voted on Thursday, the school board quickly came together to scrap the word “wild” entirely.

“We didn’t feel like we had received clear direction in our dealings with the CCIA before, where we knew ‘savage’ was not acceptable, but today it was very clear because they voted,” Krug said.

The district says it will work with the CCIA to avoid the $25,000 monthly fine scheduled for June 1.

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Nearly a dozen public schools the state has identified as having derogatory Native American mascots have taken action to avoid paying fines of $25,000 a month.

State lawmakers passed SB21-116 last year, which banned the use of Native American mascots by public schools. The only exception is where a partnership exists between a school district and a federally recognized tribe. The bill sets June 1, 2022 as the deadline for schools to meet these parameters.

At Thursday’s quarterly meeting of the Colorado Indian Affairs Commission, commissioners voted to remove 11 schools in various parts of the state from the non-compliance list. These schools have presented plans to retire mascots or partner with tribes.

One school remained on the initial list at the end of the session. Lamar High School, one of the first schools the commission identified as having an offensive mascot, wants to continue to be known as the “Savages.” However, the school agreed to change its mascot from “Chief Ugh Lee” to an image of a bison.

“[The term ‘savage’] reveals a hard truth about what happened with colonization and is noted in many official legal documents, such as treaties with the US government and many tribal nations,” said Commissioner Crystal LoudHawk-Hedgepeth, a citizen Navajo. “These legal documents often use terms like ‘savage’ and ‘uncivilized’ to describe Indigenous peoples. »

Blake Mundell, a 2007 Lamar High graduate, organized other alumni to advocate for the mascot’s renaming. He said he was disappointed that his alma mater continued to bypass state advice.

“The council’s refusal to listen is not simply a refusal to listen to the CCIA, it is a refusal to listen to decades of its own students who have come and gone, members of the community who have expressed their concerns for a long time,” Mundell said. .

Lamar High will have to comply with the law by June to avoid monthly fines. District officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The commission also chose to add several schools with the “Thunderbirds” mascot, which refers to a mythical bird common in Aboriginal legend, to its non-compliance list. These schools will not have to meet the June deadline, due to an amendment to this year’s Schools Finance Bill. They will get an additional year to meet state requirements.

It’s unclear how the state will collect monthly fines from schools that don’t follow state rules, because no entity has the power to apply the fines.

A complete list of schools that do not meet the state’s criteria can be found on the Colorado Indian Affairs Commission website.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect Lamar High’s mascot.

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