Like a demolition team swinging a sledgehammer, legislators intent on purging Native American mascots from Colorado schools smashed their opposition with little consideration of the wreckage they were creating.  So certain of the righteousness of their cause, they denied even mere consideration to the communities upon which they imposed their will.

Two of Colorado’s smallest districts – Arickaree (103 students) and Mountain Valley (153 students) – are being severely harmed by this legislation which isn’t just about mascots but instead prohibits any sort of Native American imagery “used as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead or team name” by a school.

Surrounded by prairie and farmland on the plains of Washington County, Arickaree School is one of Colorado’s few remaining country schools, located between Cope (population 230) and Anton (155).

Arickaree derives its name from the Arikaree River, which begins near Cope and was named for the Arikara tribe.  Given its location and history, it’s hardly surprising that the community selected “Indians” as the name for school teams.  Critics could just as easily argue that ignoring the area’s Indian heritage – by changing the name to, say, Arickaree Guardians – would be disrespectful, too.

Compliance with Senate Bill 116 isn’t as simple as calling school teams by another nickname.  The school must replace its sports, band and cheerleader uniforms from junior high to high school.  The center of the high school gymnasium floor – newly installed in 2019 – includes a distinguished painting of the Arickaree Indian logo, which also adorns the outside of the building and signage along the road.  Indian imagery in hallways, classrooms, locker rooms and the cafeteria must also be expunged.

So, what about those sports championship banners proudly displayed in the gymnasium?  At times, Arickaree has been a powerhouse in six-man football and in basketball.  Must they now tear down those authentic championship banners and replace them with banners that pretend the Arickaree Indians never existed?

Nearly 300 miles to the southwest, Mountain Valley School on the northern edge of the San Luis Valley faces a heart-breaking conundrum.  Just three years ago, the community supported construction of a $31 million new school.  A Ute artist worked with the school to replace the long-time “mean-looking” Indian logo.

Because the Utes were expert horsemen, the new logo depicts a silhouetted Ute rider on horseback in front of the Ute trail portion of the Old Spanish Trail.  Behind the rider, school colors outline the Sangre de Cristo (red) and San Juan (black) mountains.  The logo is accented by seven black feather tips representing the seven Ute bands that were prominent in the Saguache area.

These symbols and colors were integrated throughout the new building, including the gym floor and a decorative wall.  A Southern Ute tribe representative blessed the groundbreaking and attended the ribbon cutting, expressing appreciation of the culturally-relevant manner in which MVS embraced tribal heritage.

“When SB 116 came along, I thought we were in compliance,” said Superintendent Travis Garoutte.  But the Southern Ute Council declined the approval necessary for MVS to keep this imagery.

By any objective standard, the artwork used by MVS doesn’t merely respect Ute culture but celebrates it.  Now because SB 116 provides no appeal for approval to an accountable state entity, the school must demolish this work and start over.

It’s not difficult to imagine proponents of SB 116 defending these dignified Indian images if someone on the political right wanted to banish them in favor of mascots that celebrate our state’s European settlers.  Regardless of motive, purging Native American symbols from these schools amounts to a disgraceful cultural cleansing.

Legislators effectively threw a hand grenade into these and other communities.  Arickaree operates on $1.7 million from state and local taxes; Mountain Valley receives $2.1 million.  The law will force them to divert funds intended to educate students and instead spend up to $300,000 to tear up gymnasium floors, demolish artwork, and replace uniforms, flags and banners.

Legislators responsible for SB 116 should take time to visit these schools and explain to the students, teachers and communities why they must be sacrificed after making every effort possible to be respectful of Indian heritage.

3 Thoughts on “Indian mascot ban causes needless harm to two tiny schools”

  • What about the Town of Kiowa in Elbert County? The school celebrates its connection to the Kiowa Indians, and their logo depicts an Indian, very respectfully.

  • Hi Mr Hillman,
    My name is Patt Covert and I write for the Otis Telegraph. My children attended Arickaree School and I live in Yuma, home of the Yuma Indians. I feel sorry for the schools that are faced with the huge changes involved with SB116. There does not to appear to be any leeway or sanity in these areas.
    I see the local schools making the best of a difficult situation that has blind sided them. When the Indian Mascot mandate came down, there was some talk of grant money being available to help defray costs. Have you heard of any such legislation?
    I feel that to ignore the great history tied to our nation’s native tribes by removing their names from places that have honored them will do more harm than good. I had never heard of the Arickara Indians until moving to Cope 30 years ago band then only because of Arickaree school. It feels like the Native Americans are disappearing.
    How would you handle the situation? The stiff penalty for noncompliance feels heavy handed and vengeful.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    Patt Covert
    Otis Telegraph

  • Curious as to why the Southern Ute Council declined approval if, as you say, the artwork “respects and celebrates Ute culture”? What was their reasoning?

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