Q & A: Engaging Schools in Native American Mascots and Imagery

Apr 21, 2016

Ernest House Jr., Executive Director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs
Credit Bente Birkeland / RMCR

The Governor's commission studying American Indian representations in public schools released its report this week. The group recommends that public schools do not use American Indian mascots, but if they do, they should partner with a tribe to make sure it is done in a respectful way. Right now thirty Colorado schools use some type of American Indian mascot or imagery.

The commission went to four schools to bring American Indian and non-American Indian people together, community members, school boards, and students. This follows failed attempts at the statehouse to ban these types of mascots.

Here are highlights from Bente Birkeland's interview with Ernest House Jr., the Executive Director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs and a member of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe.

On How the Commission Worked

"This was a way to engage in a different approach. Community conversations, a dialogue, no threat of penalties against schools, just getting an understanding of the issue and to bring awareness about the issue."

"Every one of these communities is so unique; they're all different. They all bring their own history, tradition and pride to that particular mascot, image or logo. We knew that there was going to be potential for a lot of very passionate representations and opinions on both sides of the issue."

On whether schools understood why American Indians found the Images Offensive

"That was a big question. We heard from some people in the community of maybe never being contacted by a tribe. Which I think in the last ten years this is really the first time the Commission of Indian Affairs and really been apart of the conversation of actually bringing numerous voices to the same table."

"A partnership with these tribes is a win-win situation. A big request by these schools is they would like more information on American Indian history. They would like more information on those tribes that were once located in that area."