Mascot issues concern state’s tribal leaders

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BOISE — Idaho tribal leaders on Friday — including Kootenai Tribe council member Gary Aitken Jr. — expressed concerns about the offensive nature some sports mascots represent to Indian tribes.

Examples of school mascot names discussed by members of the Idaho Council on Indian Affairs included “Redskins,” and “Savages.”

“One of the problems is, they don’t recognize the pain it causes, the disrespect that’s shown,” said Aitken, a member of the statewide council.

“To speak out upon it, it’s a struggle, and it’s effects have been trivialized,” Aitken said. “They kind of just tell people to get over it — and it’s not that big of a deal,  or we’re just honoring you. But I don’t think most of the people that are saying these type of things realize the generational effects and the weight that we carry.”

The chairman of the council responded to the talk about what are considered by Native Americans to be derogatory nicknames by saying he would forward the concerns expressed meeting to members of the Idaho Legislature.

Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, said he planned to distribute a letter “to the entire (Idaho) Legislature,” about the discussion on mascot names at the Friday meeting.

“I’m gonna talk about the sensitivity of mascot issues, and just ask individual legislators that may have schools that may be using Native American mascots and try to discuss the subject and issue with them,” said Gibbs, chairman of the Idaho Council on Indian Affairs.

Gibbs added: “I don’t think legislation’s in order. I don’t think that’s how you want to fix it.”

Representing the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes located in Southeastern Idaho, Nathan Small said the nickname “Salmon Savages,” is offensive. That’s Salmon River High School’s sports nickname.

“The Lemhi Indians were in that area, and finally got removed from that area — in 1904 and 1905 was when they started bringing them to Fort Hall,” Small said. “But the savages depicts Indians as savages. You know, I’ve always said it is also offensive to us, because I guess you could we feel we’re not the savages that come to this country. The people that came to this country, they’re the savages, because they treated our people very, very bad.”

Small said that many people may not understand the term “redskin,” but explained to the audience that it’s derived from a bygone era when government entities — including the U.S. government — offered bounties for Indian scalps as a means to remove native peoples.

“And that’s where the redskin name came from,” Small said. “And so, when you look at something like that, it’s about dead people, dead Indians. And, how can you name yourself something like that and be proud of that, and have all the school pride for it?”

“These things are offensive,” Small added.

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