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State Funding At Center Of School Mascot Controversy

MORRISON, Colo. (CBS4)- Schools that use nicknames based on Native American names or imagery must seek tribes' permission or lose funding under a bill proposed by a Colorado lawmaker.

Some state lawmakers are working on a measure that would allow Native Americans the chance to control their own image.

Lamar Savages
Lamar High School Savages (credit: CBS)

The Lamar High School mascot is the "Savages." This bill would send a clear message to schools with those types of mascots: change your name or lose state funding.

But deciding which mascots cross the line isn't always so clear.

"Savages, I think that needs to go," said Joseph Salazar, a House Democrat from Thornton. "There is no way in the world that that should be acceptable."

Salazar's bill would give the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs power to say what is appropriate usage of Native American imagery. They would review everything from dictionary-defined slurs to tribal affiliations, in terms like warriors, braves and chiefs, meant to be an homage.

"You can't have people who aren't educated in the American Indian community make those decisions because they may not know that the imagery that they're using, that the mascot that they're using, is offensive," said Salazar. "That's why it should go back to community."

At issue isn't just names but the full presentation. Arapahoe High School's use of warriors was deemed appropriate because of the dignified logo used by the school.

Other logos like those playing on racial stereotypes would likely fail.

"It needs some amendments, some changes," said Travis Roubideaux with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, when asked about the bill.

He supports the bill, but cautiously. He believes getting rid of all Native imagery is as bad as the offense abuses too.

"The mascot itself, the logo, is kind of like the last traces of our people. And for me, letting go of it would be like saying, 'I never existed here,'" said Roubideaux.

The bill is expected to be introduced once the State Legislature 2015 begins. It could be coupled with another bill giving greater access to college tuition for Native Americans.

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