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Proposed bill encourages schools with Native American mascots to ‘retire’ symbol

A sign stands at Dixie State University on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in St. George, Utah. After years of resisting calls to change its name, the university is considering dropping the term Dixie as another example of the nation’s reexamination of symbols associated with the Confederacy and the enslavement of Black people. (Chris Caldwell/The Spectrum via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — After months of discourse regarding different sports teams’ mascots utilizing Native American names, Utah lawmakers are encouraging schools to retire their symbols. 

The concurrent resolution, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Weight, will be introduced during the 2021 legislative session, advocating schools to issue new mascot names and provide a more thorough education in Native American culture and history. 

“This resolution recognizes that using Native American names, imagery, symbols, and regalia as school mascots wrongfully characterizes and causes harm to Native Americans,” the bill reads. “[It also] explains the harmful effects that using these mascots creates in the education and development of all students, including the contribution to high rates of school drop out and death by suicide among Native American youth.”

Proposed bill reflects a national conversation

The proposed legislation comes after months of conversations surrounding racial justice, leading to several sports teams retiring their mascots to opt for something more neutral. This includes the Washington Football Team and Cleveland’s Baseball Team. 

Dixie State University also proposed changing its name after receiving reports from recent graduates that it was hindering employment opportunities. The word ‘Dixie’ historically refers to the Confederacy in the early 1860s, carrying association with bigotry and oppression. Bountiful High School also ditched its Native American inspired mascot for something more racially and culturally accurate. 

“You’re talking slavery,” Jeanetta Williams, the president of the Salt Lake branch of the N.A.A.C.P., told The New York Times. “We’re talking about the Civil War.”

Bill seeks to retire names, encourage further education

The bill itself does not remove mascot names from schools. Instead, it encourages school leaders to meet with Native American communities to develop a process for retiring mascots.

This proposal is crucial in Utah because of its history of Native American tribes, according to the legislation. 

“Utah is the ancestral home of eight tribes, each with a distinctive and rich heritage of culture and traditions, and each with a sovereign government,” it reads. “Native Americans are a vital part of Utah’s history, its present, and its future.”

However, the bill argues the usage of Native American imagery for mascots and team names symbolize historical “inaccurate portrayals” that were used “to assert their dominance over Native Americans.”