DENVER — The Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs met with six school districts on Friday to discuss the districts' progress towards removing Native American mascots.
In 2021, Governor Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 21-116 into law, banning schools from having Native American mascots without a tribe’s permission. Schools who don’t comply face a $25,000 monthly fine.
“This shows evidence of us removing our Native American imagery,” Chad Krug, Lamar School District superintendent, said while presenting to the commission.
Krug explained the steps the district was taking to change Lamar High School’s mascot.
“You’ll see we switched it from Lamar Savages to Option B, which is the Savage Thunder,” Krug told commissioners.
Kiowa High School in Elbert County School District C-2 received permission from the Kiowa Tribe to keep their “Kiowa Indians” mascot. District leaders told commissioners they plan to implement a mandatory Native American history class.
But the commission has received complaints from other tribes regarding mascots.
According to the Colorado Sun, the “thunderbird," a large birdlike creature with significance to certain tribes, was added to the banned list, impacting seven schools, including Hinkley High School and Thunder Ridge Middle School in Aurora.
The schools said they've had limited communications with the commission regarding their mascots.
“If there's a population of people that say it's not honoring our culture, why aren't we listening?,” said Rachel Blackman, incoming principal of the American Indian Academy of Denver. “There's an idea that Native Americans are Pocahontas or they're these savage killers, and mascots perpetuate those images,”
More than 50 percent of the student population of the American Indian Academy of Denver identify as indigenous. But Blackman, a member of the Dakota Tribe, said at many schools, indigenous students' only exposure to native culture is through stereotypical mascots.
“As a leader in a school with youth, not just indigenous youth, but youth, it's really important that our students are able to see themselves in society as who they are and not as a stereotype,” Blackman said.
The commission will meet again on May 19 to decide if school districts are in compliance with the mascot law. At that time, the commission will also decide what actions it will take against schools with thunderbird mascots.