Washington Governor Signs Ban On Native American Names, Mascots in Schools

April 27, 2021 Updated: April 27, 2021

Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Monday signed into law a measure banning Native American-themed team names or mascots at public schools in the state.

Under the new law, Washington schools with mascots, logos, or sports team names such as Chiefs, Braves, or Indians have until this year’s end to either phase out those “inappropriate” symbols or seek approval from the nearest federally recognized tribe.

“This bill will end the disrespectful use of Native American imagery in our public schools,” Inslee, a Democrat, said at a signing ceremony streamed from in his office.

The bill also requests that the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction create a grant program to help schools cover the potential expenses associated with the replacement or redesign of their names and imagery. Starting in January 2022, schools that keep their Native American names or mascots without the blessing of a tribal government will not be able to purchase uniforms or yearbooks featuring the old logos.

A similar policy was adopted in the neighboring state of Oregon in 2016, and since then, most of the affected school districts had dumped or retained their Native American imagery and team names by securing permission from a local tribe.

Meanwhile in Colorado, the state Senate last week approved, in a party-line vote, a bill that aims to ban the “derogatory use” of Native American-themed mascots in the state’s public schools.

Under Senate Bill 116, a Colorado school can keep its mascot if approved by a federally recognized tribe, which still would have the right to revoke its authorization at any time for any reason. Schools that keep using a Native American mascot without tribal approval would be fined $25,000 for each month the mascot remains in use.

“Not only have Indigenous Peoples had their homeland stolen but their culture has been continually trivialized and appropriated,” Democratic state Sen. Jessie Danielson, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. “For decades schools and sports teams have used degrading imagery as mascots, calling themselves the ‘Savages,’ ‘Reds,’ or ‘Indians.’ It’s time that we listen to Native leaders and end this practice.”

Republican state Sen. Don Coram disagreed with Danielson, saying that the “Indians” mascot isn’t racist or offensive, but is meant to honor the local Native Americans in general.

“We’re all in a state of cancel culture,” said Coram, reported Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “We presume with the perception that we don’t like it so everybody doesn’t like it. That is not the case.”