Let the process work
Fifteen Oregon high schools that have proudly borne Native American mascots for decades, like ours here in The Dalles, are facing a tough and unasked-for job: Choose a new mascot that doesn’t reference Indians, Warriors, Braves, Chieftains or any other reference to the Native American race.
We’ll no longer debate the merits of the law. The governor has vetoed a plan to vet mascots through neighboring tribes and prove them “respectful” and the North Wasco County School District board of directors has agreed to a change.
The rationale of the state behind the change requirement was summed up in a paragraph from a 2012 Oregon Department of Education report: “While the communities of these high schools believe they are honoring Native Americans, there is a growing body of social science literature and empirical research that indicates there are harmful effects of such racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals.”
The Dalles high school student body and faculty are working together through a comprehensive effort to select a new mascot to represent the school.
The process has sparked a hailstorm of public and semi-public debate since it began last fall — on social media sites and, more recently, in the Letters to the Editor section of The Chronicle after a handful of tentative prospects were announced in December.
The “final” candidates — Rattlers, Rapids, Sasquatch, Megawatts (changed in a meeting just last week to Current) and Riverhawks — have sparked spirited conversation within the community.
Walk into a coffee shop or bar and ask the patrons what they think should be the mascot and the answers are likely to run the gamut and far afield from the slate of final candidates.
But the selection process isn’t just a popularity contest. It has followed a specific set of criteria to narrow down the possibilities, including: “ability to inspire school spirit, act as a positive reflection of the local community, feasibility in terms of cost, and degree of “uniqueness,” a category which takes into account whether other schools in the region already use a similar mascot.”
The idea of adopting the former Wahtonka High School’s mascot, the Eagles, while popular for at least several local residents, wouldn’t fare so well under the final criterium. Hood River Valley High School competes regularly against The Dalles Wahtonka, so cheering confusion could be the result of identical mascots.
It’s clear from the reactions that local folks have a strong interest in the outcome of the mascot process. They may not like giving up their beloved Indians or Eagle Indians, but if they have to, they want something worth cheering for.
But we would encourage them to leave control of the process in the hands of the students and faculty.
While input is never a bad thing, the students, in particular, deserve to have their say mean the most.
At the same time, the students might be thinking ahead to avoid a debacle at the school board level like the one several years ago, when students first weighed in on the consolidated high school’s mascot.
It’s just a suggestion, but instead of fielding just one selection, why not give the school board three or so acceptable options to choose from?
We would hate to see a repeat of the earlier outcome, and options would give the board a chance to weigh the students’ suggestions in light of criteria the committee may not have considered.
No matter how they approach this difficult job, we wish the panel good luck in reaching its final outcome.