Posted on July 6, 2021

Colorado Schools Have 11 Months to Remove American Indian Mascots

Saja Hindi, Denver Post, July 2, 2021

A school mascot played a role in Stephanie Jerome’s decision last year not to enroll her 10-year-old daughter in the Cheyenne Mountain School District, whose high school mascot is the “Indians.”

The Jerome family is of Lakota and Ojibwe heritage. Before they moved to Colorado Springs, Jerome’s sons had been bullied in other schools for their background and their long hair, and given the mascot, the family thought it would be even worse for her daughter, Jeanvieve.

“It’s disrespectful to our people and it hurts to see people support that,” said Jeanvieve, who also didn’t want to go to school in the district and was homeschooled instead. She said it gives students permission to make fun of Native students, furthering mocking and bullying in schools.

The 25 Colorado schools that have American Indian mascots have 11 months to remove them or face a monthly fine of $25,000. That means changing uniforms, signs, paintings in hallways and even gym floors, and when Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed SB21-116, he paired it with a letter of concern about the short timespan and cost to school districts, which can run hundreds of thousands dollars.

Backers of the law say not only is it the right thing to do — American Indians in Colorado say many of the mascots turn their identities into caricatures — but the districts also have known this was a long time coming. Schools with these mascots could save making a change if they had an agreement with a federally recognized tribe by June 30, or they can apply for a state Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant to help with costs, though the process is already competitive and the grants likely wouldn’t be issued in time.


The National Congress of American Indians has been asking for mascot changes for more than 30 years, said Democratic state Rep. Adrienne Benavidez of Commerce City, one of the sponsors of the new law. The Colorado Legislature has also tried to pass the bill in years past.


In March, Cheyenne Mountain High School decided to retire its mascot. And Montrose County School District started looking at replacing the mascots at two of its schools this year once the bill passed the Legislature — Montrose High School (the Indians) and Centennial Middle School (the Braves, its logo a Native American in a headdress).

The district’s initial estimate for changing both mascots is a combined $500,000 to $750,000, though that could change, Montrose School District spokesman Matt Jenkins said. That would include everything from paint on the gym walls to scoreboards to school apparel.


Colorado Rural Schools Alliance Executive Director Michelle Murphy is worried about schools that operate on “shoestring budgets” and have already passed their yearly budgets. {snip}


Many Colorado Republicans, particularly those from rural areas, also cited the cost and quick turnaround when they voted against the bill.

“Some of these names like the (Lamar) Savages are totally unacceptable, frankly,” GOP Rep. Colin Larson of Littleton said. But his vote came down to how he views the law as an unfunded mandate that could force schools to have to cut essential needs, including staff, to pay for the new expenses in a short amount of time.


Benavidez brushes off many of the complaints, noting the effects these mascots have on Indigenous students, as cited by national studies and stories shared by people who testified during the legislative session, including Jeanvieve.

“If this was any other kind of harm, we would say, ‘no, stop it.’ We wouldn’t say give them more time to pay for them to do things that hurt children,” Benavidez said.