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Second Protest Planned Against Roseburg High 'Indians"


A protest is planned at Roseburg High School this Sunday against its team name, the “Indians”.  The event challenges an agreement between the school and a neighboring tribe.

Four years ago, the Oregon Department of Education ruled thatall public schools had to eliminate Indian-themed mascots and team names unless a local tribe approved a joint effort to educate people about Native culture and history.  Among those that entered a deal was Roseburg High and the Cow Creek Tribe.

But several RHS alumni still feel the “Indians” moniker is derogatory. Amanda Mendoza is a teacher of Muscogee Creek, Choctaw, and Cherokee heritage.

Credit Courtesy of Amanda Mendoza
Amanda Mendoza (left) and Jessica Bascom (right) are Roseburg High School alumni and Native Americans who feel it's time for their alma mater to lose its "Indians" mascot.

“It really dehumanizes native people. It creates this idea that native people don’t exist anymore. And a mascot itself doesn’t educate anyone about the culture.”

Mendoza says another RHS grad, Jessica Bascom, launched the push after Washington's NFL team announced it would drop its moniker, "Redskins"which is considered by many Native Americans as a racist slur.  Bascom is a member of the Klamath Tribe and has Creek and Cherokee heritage.  After talking to local media, Bascom went to Roseburg High and announced an impromptu protest.

"Response was mixed," recalls Mendoza.  "We had some honks and cheers of support, but then we had some who yelled things like "Get over it!" and "Go, Indians!"  And some extended middle fingers out of their car windows, or stopped and got out of their cars to make their opinions known."

This coming protest Sunday afternoon will be the second one at the school in a week.  Mendoza is hopeful that it will be family-friendly and peaceful, even if people are passionate on both sides.  She notes that it's organized by someone who says they were inspired by the one held August 2nd.

Credit Facebook events
Facebook events
Image used to promote the August 9th protest at Roseburg High School.

Oregon recently enacted Senate Bill 13, which expands curriculum about the First Nations in public schools.  The goal is to further educate students about Native American tribes, both historically and in modern times.

Mendoza says if Roseburg High School continues to keep its mascot, that administrators should seek out that curriculum so people understand how Indigenous people in Oregon were driven off their lands, as well as know that they exist today.  She says the mascot and imagery have improved over time; currently school team uniforms and the gymnasium features the image of a single feather.  But she adds, not all native people embrace the "Indians".

In a statement to KLCC, RHS Principal Jill Weber says the district will be taking steps to review the mascot, which will involve the community and Cow Creek Tribe.

"...we recognize that this issue continues to evolve, and we are committed to ensuring that our school and district are safe and inclusive environments for all of our students," writes Weber.  "I have had several conversations with community members in recent weeks and am taking all feedback to heart. I appreciate the support we have received, as well as the concerns that people have brought to my attention."

Weber goes on to say that the district's goal will be to "find a solution that we can all be proud of."

A Cow Creek tribal spokesperson was emailed a request for comment.  So far they have not responded.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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