Gov. Hickenlooper, Commission Release Report on the Study of American Indian Representations in Public Schools (Lamar Included)

Savage-Head(Editor’s Note) Due to a lack of space, the full report has been condensed and focuses on the Lamar High School Findings

DENVER — Monday, April 18, 2016 — Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Governor’s Commission to Study American Indian Representation in Public Schools today released their final report on the use of mascots and imagery in Colorado public schools. The group was joined by William (Bill) Mendoza, the executive director of White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education.

“This Commission has charted a path forward for Colorado with a willingness to work together through conversation and collaboration,” said Hickenlooper. “We are grateful to everyone who participated in this process. Their hard work gives us all a better understanding of each other and the complexities of this issue.”

Representatives from federally recognized tribes, , institutions of public education, state agencies, and community stakeholders make up the 15 member commission. The Commission was created by the governor in 2015 through executive order.

After five months of community meetings and discussion, the Commission established four guiding principles that can be taken on by local communities, educational institutions, state agencies and organizations. The four guiding principles that are outlined in the report include:

  • The elimination of derogatory and offensive American Indian mascots, imagery, and names and a strongly recommendation for communities to review their depictions in facilitated public forums.
  • The recognition and respect of Tribal sovereignty and a strong recommendation for schools to enter into formal relationships with federally recognized tribe to retain their American Indian imagery.
  • The recognition and respect of local control by elected boards of education and an active involvement of local communities, students, and citizens around the topic of American Indian mascots.
  • A strong educational focus and outreach.

“Through participation in this Commission, our tribe was able to see the lack of education and awareness around American Indian history and culture in Colorado’s public schools,” said Chairman Clement Frost, Southern Ute Indian Tribe. “We believe it is incumbent upon our Tribe, the State of Colorado, and Colorado public schools to recognize the role of American Indians in Colorado’s history and to ensure that this history is taught comprehensively and accurately.”

The Commission was invited by four communities with American Indian mascots to engage in a discussion about the ongoing struggle for local traditions versus the desire to treat American Indians respectfully and honor their history and culture.

“The recommendations made by Governor Hickenlooper and the Commission are not only needed and appropriate, they are consistent with the concerns raised by native youth across the country, who are calling upon education decision-makers to address harmful Native-themed imagery so that all students, particularly Native Americans, experience a safe and welcoming school environment,” said William (Bill) Mendoza, executive director,  White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education.

“As an administrator, emphasizing respect for all cultures and for all people is one of our most important educational missions,” said Jeff Rasp Principal at Strasburg High School. “Our partnership with the Arapaho tribe has been one of the most beneficial experiences ever for our school.”

“The use of American Indian mascots creates an opportunity for schools and tribes to engage in meaningful relationships with one another,” said Chairman Manuel Heart, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. “Schools like Strasburg High School are positive examples of a way in which the use of a mascot can be the catalyst for fostering a respectful, educational, and unique partnership that also acknowledges the sovereignty of American Indian nations.” 

The third meeting of the Commission was held at Lamar Community College and discussed the Lamar High School “Savages” mascot. The meeting was opened by representatives of the Lamar Board of Education.


As of the census of 2000, there were 8,869 people, 3,324 households, and 2,247 families residing in the city. The racial makeup of the city was 76.24% White, 0.38% African American, 1.48% American Indian/Alaska Native, 0.47% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 18.81% from other races, and 2.57% from two or more races.

Highlights from Lamar Meeting:

  • A community member stated that he appreciated the Commission coming to visit and doing their own research of the community. Initially, this visit put him on the defensive, but after hearing several Commissioners speak, that is not how he feels now. He had several questions: first, if the major concern is being respectful of American Indian culture, does the community really communicate disrespect and/or did the Commission come across anything intentionally harmful or malicious? Second, he would like to understand where the feeling of disrespect comes from: is it a misunderstanding of the name savages or the logo, or, is it the connection between the name savages and the image of an American Indian?
  • A Lamar High School alumnus and former faculty announced to the Commission that they are “in Indian Country now” and that it was “Savage Country.” She attended and taught in the Lamar education system. She is also active in the alumni community and just finished organizing a reunion that was attended by over 350 people. When they sat together at this reunion, singing songs together, praying together, they were “savages.” She asked the Commission if they didn’t think they were proud to be Savages. They are as proud as everyone sitting in the chairs [the Commission]. This is Savage Country to them, their ambulances and fire trucks carry the logo. Anyone who would have anything to say against the savages will hear about it. They are proud people here. If the Commission should get mad at anyone, they should get mad at the media, they are the ones responsible for pushing those stereotypical and offensive images. How is Lamar supposed to learn about tribal history if they cut Colorado History from the curriculum? You need to work on the media and standards of education before solving the mascot question.
  • A different community member spoke on her experience in Lamar and with the mascot as a transplant to this area. To those who can’t understand why the Savage name is offensive, to others outside the community, it is embarrassing to be associated with such a name. The term is a slur and is especially offensive when used in connection with American Indians; it means someone is less than human, beast like. Continued use of the mascot makes the town look ignorant. • Another community member commented that everyone’s feelings get hurt way too easily, including himself. When he first heard about this meeting, his feelings were hurt, but now he doesn’t feel that way. He graduated high school here as well as his children. When the governor visited Lamar a few months back, he asked him if he was going to change their mascot. In no way would he want to demean a child and he has nothing but respect for American Indians. If it weren’t for the Navajo, everyone in America would be speaking Japanese today. He has friends who are Navajo, and to hear them speak their language is beautiful. He has respect for all Indian nations and he doesn’t care what creed or race a person is, if you are a good human, you are a good human. He hopes the Commission feels the same way about the people of Lamar and sees how much they care for this community.  He ended his comments by saying that he feels a lot better after hearing the stories of the Commissioners and learn different things.
  • A junior at Lamar High School commented that the mascot has been used by generations upon generations of community members. The school does provide a Colorado History curriculum where they learn about some of the heritage of Lamar. He asked the commission, whether any tribe was ever called the savages, and if not, what tribe would that offend then? He also asked if the artwork represented American Indians negatively or if anything other pride was for that name was felt at the school. The title of this year’s yearbook is called “Pride in the Tribe,” which demonstrates how the students feel about this moniker.


After five months of community meetings and discussion, the Commission has established four guiding principles which structure their overall recommendations. These recommendations are intended to provide specific action items that can be taken on by local communities, state agencies and organizations, and educational institutions. As citizens of Colorado, we should all be invested in and responsible for the education and well-being of our students, so similarly there are ways that respectful and meaningful discussion of the mascot issue can be held at the individual, local, and state levels. Furthermore, every local community is unique and has its own distinctive challenges, history, traditions, and identity that must be taken into account, so recommendations regarding mascots should be flexible, responsive, and supportive of these needs. The Commission to Study American Indian Representations in Public Schools makes the following recommendations:

  1. The Commission recommends the elimination of American Indian mascots, imagery, and names, particularly those that are clearly derogatory and offensive, and strongly recommends that communities review their depictions in facilitated public forums. The Commission recommends that every school and community with American Indian mascots review the use of these depictions in a facilitated public forum that allows for the sharing of perspectives, including input from American Indians. The use of these mascots must be reevaluated with a strong consideration of the negative impact they have on American Indians and on all cultures and students.  Mascots or images should be eliminated, particularly those that are derogatory and offensive.  In support of this recommendation, the Commission recommends:
  • Organizations involved in regulating, monitoring, and administering student activities and/or competitive events should engage in this dialogue. We recommend that they establish new, or update existing, policy to prohibit member schools from displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery, and likewise prohibit hostile and abusive behavior of any kind. While the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) was not involved in any of the Commission’s community meetings, the Commission has seen similar organizations in other states play a key role in this discussion.
  • The Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA)to develop an inventory of experts and resources that can assist school districts and student organizations with either eliminating or reviewing their mascot.
  • A special Advisory Committee by the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs to develop a list of recommended specific criteria and/or best practices for schools that decide to maintain their American Indian mascot.
  1. The Commission recognizes and respects Tribal sovereignty and strongly recommends schools to enter into formal relationships with federally recognized tribes to retain their American Indian imagery.  Schools that choose to retain an American Indian mascot are encouraged to form a partnership with individual federally recognized tribes to promote transitioning to respectful relations. The Commission respects the inherent sovereignty of American Indian nations, including tribes’ authority to enter into relationships with public schools in both Native and non-Native student settings, regarding the use of American Indian mascots, representations and practices. Through these relationships, respectful use of mascots and depictions can be developed and can foster the use of authentic educational experiences with regard to American Indian history, traditions, and culture. In support of this  recommendation, the Commission recommends:
  • That school districts that choose to retain American Indian mascots should make informed decisions regarding the impact of mascots on students and the community and be strongly encouraged to develop partnerships with American Indian tribes or organizations.
  • Tribal partnerships for schools that want to develop long term relationships with sovereign governments and Native citizens to inform how and when mascots are used, provide contemporary cultural education, and establish mutually beneficial partnerships, should be heavily supported.
  1. The Commission recognizes and respects local control by elected boards of education and an active involvement of local communities, students, and citizens around the topic of American Indian mascots.

As the Commission respects the primacy of elected boards of education as ensured by Colorado law, including the ability to address the appropriate use of American Indian mascots and representations in sports and other settings, it strongly advises communities to take this topic on at the local policy level and support systems that ensure culturally sensitive, inclusive, and respectful learning environments for the benefit of all their students. In support of this recommendation, the Commission recommends:

  • Information regarding the harmful effects of American Indian mascots should be shared with every public school district in the state.
  • Student identity to be strengthened through an increased attention to the academic, cultural, and social emotional environment of school districts, particularly in regards to American Indian students.
  • School districts to reexamine their anti-bullying/antidiscrimination policies, especially with regard to American Indian students.
  • That legislative penalties and unfunded mandates for schools with American Indian mascots be avoided.
  • Local communities and school districts to engage in a community based, inclusive, and participatory process for discussing the American Indian mascot. To support these conversations there should be incentives and aid provided to help in facilitating public meetings, gathering school information, inviting speakers and experts, consultations, etc.
  1. Work collaboratively to promote and support American Indian history, culture, and contributions in our public schools and districts. One of the most important aspects of the debate over continued use of American Indian mascots is a lack of educational awareness of American Indian culture and history in public schools and a lack of resources for developing and increasing this awareness. In order to advocate for American Indian cultures and history in local communities, resources need to be available to inform school districts of the rich and diverse American Indian heritage in Colorado.

In support of this recommendation, the Commission recommends:

  • An extension of this Commission’s work through the creation of an Advisory Committee under the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs to assist with community conversations, the development of set of criteria and transition process for public schools that use American Indian mascots or imagery, and to help identify financial support to assist in the transition process.
  • The Colorado Department of Education and all school districts should include American Indian history and educational opportunities and supports for American Indian students within its state educational plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
  • The Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs to provide sample curriculum plans, American Indian sources, and other resources to schools to help implement American Indian education in all public schools that focuses on appreciation of American Indian culture.
  • History Colorado Center to archive and maintain work of the Commission and those schools that choose to transition in order to disseminate it as a resource for other communities, states, etc.

Filed Under: City of LamarCountyEducationFeaturedHistoryMedia ReleaseSchoolYouth


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