Debra Lekanoff

Rep. Debra Lekanoff led efforts to bar Native American sports themes at high schools not specifically affiliated with tribes or reservations.

Ivy Pete remembers attending high school football games in her hometown. But instead of pride for her school, she felt humiliated.

Pete, a junior in high school in Spokane and member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, said she experienced constant reminders of how her school used Native images and names. The front office hosts a glass case containing two Indian mannequins dressed in regalia, “akin to animals in a zoo,” she said. That her school would show such misrepresentations of a diverse culture, she said, only added to her frustration.

“Why do we allow it to continue as harm is being done to our Native students?” Pete told the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee when she testified in support of a bill that would ban the use of Native symbols, names or images as public school mascots, logos or team names.

Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Snohomish, sponsored HB 1356 and said she felt it was time to address the lack of cultural sensitivity when it comes to using Native images or names. Lekanoff is the only Native American member of the Legislature.

“The regalia that Native Americans wear are intertwined within their cultures, intertwined within their laws,” Lekanoff said. “When we see others in a mascot form using our regalia, using our deer hide and salmon skin, using the feathers and using them in mockery, this is not a way in which we feel we are being honored.”

The proposed law would not apply to schools within tribal reservations or trust lands.

Schools who bought team gear or uniforms with Native imagery before January 2022 would not have to return them, but would still have to choose a new team name and logo before the end of 2021.

This exception would also only apply to sports gear — the school would still have to immediately stop including Native imagery in any school newspaper or yearbook, on any sign, or on any program.

In the bill’s fiscal note, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction does not anticipate costs to the OSPI, but the note adds that specific costs to affected schools could not be determined. In California, a new state law changed the names of 44 schools at a cost of $23,000 per school, or $1 million to the state. Thirty-five schools out of 420 members of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association have Native-themed names or mascots that may be affected by HB 1356. South Bend is one of seven of these schools that call themselves the Indians.

The bill received widespread support when it passed the House Feb. 23 in a 92-5 vote. Those voting in favor included 19th Legislative District Reps. Jim Walsh and Joel McEntire. One of the five opposers was Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, who said he wanted to continue to feel proud of his own high school team and denied that the use of the name was disrespectful.

“We don’t have the name of Kamiakin High School as the Kamiakin Braves as a sign of disrespect. It’s quite the opposite,” he said.

Pete said seeing her culture in her school only served to hurt her own self-image as a student.

“I was that humiliated girl in the stands of her high school football games,” Pete said. “I do not feel honored, and I do not feel proud.”

HB 1356 was voted out of its committee and now heads to the Senate Ways & Means Committee for public comment.

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