Native American mascot resolution fails, but sponsor plans to revisit issue

Utah State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah, June 20, 2020 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A nonbinding resolution aimed at promoting Native American equality in Utah’s public schools and discouraging Native American themed mascots, failed to pass in the Utah House of Representatives earlier this week

The resolution, designated H.C.R. 3, failed in the Utah House by a 45-27 vote Tuesday. 

Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-Salt Lake City, who sponsored the resolution, outlined its three major components during her remarks as she introduced the legislation.

“One is to encourage all Utahns to learn about the history and heritage of our Native American neighbors, people who first settled on the lands where we live,” Weight said. “Another one is to encourage the state Board of Education, and all local education authorities to increase education about Native American cultures in history. And the third one is to encourage schools with Native American mascots to create a process locally, as my graduating high school did, to consider retirement of those mascots.”

Weight then talked about the renaming process that took place starting last summer at her alma mater, Bountiful High School.

Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-Salt Lake City, speaks on the House Floor at the State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 16, 2021 | Screenshot image courtesy of Utah Legislature, St. George News

“The high school conducted a three-month-long process of hearings and letter writing, input and phone calls from the community to consider whether or not to retire the Braves mascot from that high school,” she said.

“On Nov. 30, the principal released a short video in which he explained some background of the mascot and the announcement that the mascot would be retired and they were going to move into the process for adopting a new mascot,” Weight said, referring to a YouTube video posted by Bountiful principal Aaron Hogge. “We’re waiting literally any day now to hear the result of that choice for a new mascot. But what the principal announced was that the mascot had become divisive instead of unifying for the community, in addition to just at the high school.”

During the ensuing discussion, Rep. Rex Shipp, R-Cedar City, was among those who voiced concerns about the resolution.

Shipp noted that Cedar City High School had undergone essentially the same process two years ago.

“My kids all went to Cedar High School and it was formerly known as Cedar City Redmen. It is now the Cedar City Reds,” Shipp said, adding, “Colleagues, you can’t believe the amount of division that caused in our community. That happened a couple of years ago, and still today there’s a lot of division over that.”

Shipp said a number of local Native Americans he’s talked to support keeping names like Redmen, and said they have even encouraged him to draft a resolution discouraging their removal.

“I’ve seen polls that show that the majority of Native Americans nationwide support having their names as nicknames to the schools,” Shipp said. 

“If they’re going to use those names, they need to be sensitive to those sacred symbols and how they’re represented, but I stand opposed to this legislation,” he added.

Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, also weighed in, saying there’s not a consensus among Native Americans that such mascots and symbols are offensive. In fact, he said, many of them find them to be a source of cultural pride.

“There’s a couple things in this resolution that I really like, (such as) that fourth point to encourage the state Board of Education and local education agencies to include instruction on the history, culture and tradition of Native Americans,” Lyman said. “But I would love it if we could see what those names and those symbols represent and educate people more on them, rather than erasing those things.”

During the discussion, the University of Utah’s longtime use of the Utes nickname was also mentioned. However, Weight noted that the university and the Ute tribe have a contractual agreement permitting the Utah Utes sports teams to use that name, and that H.C.R. 3 was meant to address K-12 schools only.

A since-removed marquee sign on Cedar High School campus shows its former “Redmen” mascot, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 15, 2019 | File photo by Jeff Richards. St. George News / Cedar City News

Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, questioned why state universities shouldn’t be included for the sake of consistency, since they also receive state funding. He also brought up animal mascots.

“What about animals that are mascots of schools? Should we have PETA arguing for the protection of that as well? I’m not trying to say compare the two directly, but it’s the concept of how we get a name and a mascot,” Gibson said during his remarks.

Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Salt Lake City, who was listed as one of 17 co-sponsors of the bill, noted that the president of the Navajo Nation had written a letter supporting the measure.

“This resolution is a good resolution. It’s very thoughtful. It brings everybody on board, and I would urge you to support it,” Wheatley said.

In the ensuing 45-27 vote to defeat the resolution, all Southern Utah’s legislators in the Utah House either voted against the resolution or didn’t vote on it (Reps. Brad Last and Lowry Snow were either absent or didn’t cast a vote).

Afterward, Weight told St. George News she was disappointed in the fact that many of her fellow legislators appeared to have already had their minds made up.

“As soon as the vote opened, it was obvious that everybody had already predetermined their vote,” she said. “I now realize everybody was just waiting to ask silly questions about animal mascots and how are we going to have to wonder about what mascots are going to be considered objectionable.”

“I am disappointed that many of my colleagues still do not comprehend the hostility and harm of school mascots that disparage Native Americans,” Weight added. “The nonbinding resolution that they voted down simply urges schools to consider the harm of Native American depictions in mascots which are derogatory. Comparing this issue to animal mascots for schools is deeply offensive and dehumanizing.”

“The movement to encourage respect and understanding over ignorance and racism will continue,” she said.

Weight said one of her favorite applicable quotes, which Hogge also mentioned in his video, comes from poet Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Weight also told St. George News she plans to revisit the issue.

“I would like to try to get something done so I can introduce something next year,” she said. “My thinking is to get the education component going. And from that, learn more about communities where you have the history and degrading implications of Native American mascots. And then, take a look at that resolution again next year.”

For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2021 Utah Legislature here.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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