Group pushes for state law banning Native American mascots

SEATTLE - There's a new statewide push to end the use of Native American mascots in public schools.

It's a battle that's been going on for years, but now a group is calling on Washington state to take immediate action. The Seattle Human Rights Commission passed a resolution Friday urging the state to step up and put an end to these potentially offensive namesakes.

Across the state, many high school athletes still wear uniforms with Native American symbols, but the commission wants to ban the tradition.

Chris Stearns of the Seattle Human Rights Commission says the use of the mascots in public schools creates a negative social identity and stereotypes the culture. He says it can even cause low self-esteem among young natives.

"There's really no parallel outside of the non-Indian realm," says Stearns. "When they go to games and they're playing another team, usually the fans on the other side - they're pretty creative. They're smart kids, and they come up with all sorts of ways to make fun of the tomahawks, the Indians, the warriors. etc."

At least 30 schools across the state use some kind of Native American reference when it comes to a mascot even though the state Board of Education passed a resolution in September encouraging public schools to voluntarily stop using Native American mascots, logos and names.

"I think that people like tradition, and I think that people don't really understand how offensive this can be, and I think there's just an educational process," says Stearns.

Nearly 10 years ago, Issaquah High School changed its mascot from the "Indians" to "Eagles" after concerns were raised about offending the Native American culture.

In Oregon, Native American mascots are now banned. Schools have five years to phase out the symbols.

Stearns is hopeful more Washington state schools will be forced to get on board.

"Our hope is that things do change. America is always evolving, it's always changing," he says.

The Seattle Human Rights Commission is now trying to find a state legislator to sponsor a bill that would ban Native American mascots in public schools.