Boise High School is doing the right thing in working to change its “Braves” mascot. Dropping the ‘s’ to become “the Brave” isn’t the most earth-shattering move, but listening to the affected group and acting on their concerns is an important step.
Revisiting mascots can lead into the gray area of: Where do we draw the line? Is Rebels OK, which hearkens back to a war about slavery? What about Vikings or Cowboys — are those unfair caricatures of a group? Is the militaristic Spartans a step too far in mixing sports with a symbol of violence?
If we let ourselves get into the endless “what about” debate, we risk missing the point at hand. There’s a local issue staring us in the face, and that’s where our focus needs to be. Native American tribes in Idaho — and a whole host of residents with a range of backgrounds — say the use of mascots such as “Braves” and “Indians” and “Savages” at Idaho schools perpetuates stereotypes and misunderstanding of indigenous people.
Another side argues that these mascots don’t degrade Native American culture, but rather highlight and honor it. We disagree. And what’s more important, so do the leaders of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in Idaho, who recently wrote a position paper condemning the use of such mascots.
“The continued use of these names would only honor the non-Indian ideology created by dominant mainstream society, whose ancestors directly or indirectly killed, sold, removed, or demoralized the original Indian residents,” according to the paper, which the Idaho Press obtained from the State Board of Education.
After that devastating history, using a cartoonish symbol of Native American culture as mascots is anything but honoring.
Can you imagine a school opening up today and choosing the mascot of “Redskins”? It’s unlikely to happen, because we as a society, as messy as it gets, are learning to listen to voices that historically have been pushed to the margins.
We’re not out to police every mascot. But if a school mascot causes concerns or problems for the group it represents, administrators need to listen. Boise Brave is a small step in the right direction. The district’s school board will meet Monday to discuss it.
And for the rest of us, there are much better ways to engage with and honor Native American culture than through a mascot. In our valley and around the state are a range of opportunities to learn about the people, art, dance and culture native to this area — such as the annual “Return of the Boise Valley People” in Boise, or the Red River Powwow Association’s Annual Social in Caldwell. Engaging with real people is always a better way to learn about and honor a heritage than slapping those symbols on a mascot.