October 29, 2007

Keep the name, eliminate the offense

Negotiate a compromise for mascots[W]hat triggered the proposal to ban these mascots was a person, a young Siletz Indian named Che Butler. While playing basketball for Taft High School in Lincoln City, Butler’s younger brother witnessed a halftime show at Molalla High where two mascot in buckskins and chicken feathers danced around each other.

They were offended. It’s a reaction you can’t deny. You can say you wouldn’t be offended in their shoes. You can talk about Fightin’ Irish and Vikings. You can say mascots honor Indians. But on that night, in that gym, Che Butler and his younger brother were hurt. You hear stories just like this all over the country.

Southern Oregon University’s mascot was once the Red Raiders of the Rogue. Their logo was a cartoonish, cross-legged Indian. Practices like the tomahawk chop, drumming and war chants were common at athletic events.

This all occurred miles from where some of the bloodiest Indian battles and massacres in the state took place in the1850s.

In the 1980s, predicting a controversy like the one currently involving Oregon high schools, SOU—then known as Southern Oregon College—gave their mascot an overhaul.

“Red” was dropped from the nameplate, and the smiling Indian was replaced by a Red-Tailed Hawk, an animal revered by tribes in the Rogue Valley. They kept the name Raiders, the school colors and the athletic tradition.

It was meeting halfway in a touchy area, on a touchy subject.

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