It’s time to change the North Central High School "Indians" mascot

Indian. Native American. American Indian. Indigenous. Urban Indian. NDN. 

The terminology I use describing myself depends on where I am and who I am around. I've never called myself a “mascot” nor is the term "Indian" a nickname that I would allow non-Natives to call me.

It’s time to change the North Central High School "Indians" mascot/symbol. We have tried before to change the Native imagery at NC with some success. They no longer cross the stage holding a “savage tomahawk” like they did for many graduating classes and instead have access to a respectful eagle feather staff with four feathers representing the four classes of freshmen to seniors.  Cheerleaders no longer lead cheers in “traditional” buckskin dresses. This indicates that change is a process, not an event. The mascot/symbol change is another step in Truth and Reconciliation, but first we have to get the Native story right.

Some are calling this proposed change "cancel culture" and that:

  • It will erase Native history;
  • it is school tradition;
  • the term "Indian" honors Native attributes;
  • and the Spokane Tribe approves of the term/symbol.

NC opened in 1908 as the second high school in the city and in 1923, adopted the "Indians" mascot. The 1920s was an era of discrimination against Native Americans through U.S. policy and actions that were put in place to assimilate and strip Native Americans of their culture and traditions. This original "cancel culture" continued through the 1960s, when Congress sought to abolish, relocate, and terminate tribes through various federal policies.

click to enlarge In November 2019, Jenny Slagle was elected to the Spokane Public Schools Board of Directors and is the first American Indian woman to serve on the board.
In November 2019, Jenny Slagle was elected to the Spokane Public Schools Board of Directors and is the first American Indian woman to serve on the board.

My mother graduated high school in 1966. Like many Native Americans who attended residential or day boarding schools, she doesn't talk much about the traumatic experiences she endured. She was abusively disciplined when she spoke her Northern Arapaho language or practiced her cultural traditions. During this same time, "Cowboys and Indians" was a popular game that non-Native kids played. A game that romanticized western expansion which was rooted in violence and displacement, while Native kids such as my mom were not allowed to be actual Native Americans. 

Native history has not been accurately and fully represented in public schools. The Since Time Immemorial curriculum aims to teach history from a Native perspective and was passed through legislative action in 2005; updated in 2015; and has yet to be fully implemented in all schools. My younger daughter attended Spokane Public Schools (SPS) throughout K-12 and often felt discouraged that she didn't see herself reflected in the curriculum or school environment. She dances jingle dress style at powwows and has represented the Gathering at the Falls Powwow.

While in high school she and other Native students were invited to perform a powwow dance exhibition. She felt that the exhibition went great and was a positive experience, however immediately received backlash of racial slurs from peers as she walked down the hallway. Her remaining time in high school was filled with microaggressions that made her feel silenced and invisible. There was no honor in this.

In their 2005 resolution calling for the retirement of American Indian mascots, the American Psychological Association referenced Stephanie Fryberg, PhD (Tulalip) research showing that "…continued use of American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities has a negative effect on not only American Indian students but all students."

Spokane is home to over 15,000 Native people from nearly 350 tribes across the US. The impacts of genocide and colonialization are most commonly seen through high rates of poverty, drug/alcohol abuse, violence, and suicide. Within Spokane Public Schools, nearly 2,000 students self-identify as Native American. Data shows on average, Native students in the SPS district are less engaged, have lower test scores, and lower graduation rates than White students.

The school board and SPS Indian Education program have been working earnestly to form a good government-to-government relationship with the Spokane Tribe. The Spokane Tribe must absolutely be consulted about the proposed mascot change, and any work and activities that directly impacts their 200 Spokane Tribal enrolled/affiliated students within the district. 

Just as important, we are expanding consultation to include all regional Tribes and Tribal Organizations whose 1,800 Native children attend Spokane Public Schools. For the first time, this May, the school board is convening a two-day strategic planning session to develop a shared vision with Tribes and Tribal Organizations with the goal of improving experiences and outcomes for all Native American students in our district.

Jenny Slagle; a member of the Yakama Nation, and descendant of the Northern Arapaho tribe; is the Director of Tribal Partnerships for Upstream Washington. Jenny has 25+ years of tribal government and tribal organization experience advancing mutual goals between organizations, Tribes, and Tribal Organizations while ensuring sovereignty and treaty rights are respected.

In November 2019, she was elected to the Spokane Public Schools Board of Directors and is the first American Indian woman to serve on the board. Jenny also serves on The Native American Alliance for Policy & Action, WA State Budget & Policy Board, Statewide WA211 Board, and Every Woman Can Board of Trustees.

  • or

About The Author