Commission asks for statewide policy against American Indian school mascots

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(Host) The Vermont Human Rights Commission says it will ask lawmakers to pass a bill that will prohibit the use of Native American images and names as sports mascots at schools throughout the state. The commission says a statewide approach is needed to convince local school boards to take action.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) In the past few years, a number of Vermont schools have changed their mascots. Recently Rice High School dropped its nickname of the Little Indians to become the Green Knights, Brattleboro High School no longer wants to use the image of a confederate colonel and earlier this week the school board at Champlain Valley Union High School voted to do way with its nickname – the Crusaders.

There are still some schools in Vermont that use a Native American Indian mascot and the head of the Vermont Human Rights Commission, Robert Appel, is hoping that a law can be passed to prohibit this practice. Appel says these mascots need to be replaced because they are powerful symbols that tend to reinforce and perpetuate negative stereotypes.

Last week, Governor Jim Douglas said he doesn’t support this kind of legislation because he feels the issue should be decided by local school boards. Appel disagrees because he thinks proponents for change can be subjected to a lot of pressure and criticism at the local level:

(Appel) “That process comes with some risk to persons who challenge the status quo. Historically many communities through the alumni of the high school have rallied in defense of challenged mascots and encouraged the school board to adhere to the tradition of that mascot that is viewed by some or many to be offensive.”

(Kinzel) And Appel, who chairs a local school board, says this is not the kind of debate that educators should be involved with:

(Appel) “This unfortunate dynamic puts educators in the middle. They have to live with the school board edict and at the same time try to address the concerns of all the students the school is there to serve.”

(Kinzel) Appel says he hopes that the threat of legislation will encourage local school boards to address this issue before any legislation is actually passed.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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