Colorado Outlaws American Indian Mascots at Schools, Colleges

  • Some images are clearly derogatory, commission said
  • About two dozen schools will need to make changes

Colorado schools have about 11 months to replace their American Indian mascots or face fines.

A law (S.B. 116) signed Monday by Gov. Jared Polis (D) sets a deadline of June 1, 2022, to end the Indian-themed cartoons and costumed characters unless schools have a formal agreement with one of the 48 federally recognized tribes with ties to Colorado.

The penalty for violating the law: a $25,000 fine for each month the mascot remains unchanged.

“For too long, the presence of derogatory mascots has promoted inaccurate and offensive portrayals,” Polis wrote in his bill-signing letter.

Source: 2016 report of the Colorado Governor’s Commission to Study American Indian Representation in Public Schools

Schools with American Indian names derived from place names like Ouray and Yuma can continue using them, though they, too, must get rid of any American Indian images or symbols.

A governor’s commission recommended in 2016 the elimination of Indian-derived mascots, imagery, and names, citing schools that called themselves the Savages, Indians, Warriors, Redskins, Reds, and Braves.

The commission wrote that while tribal images “may be steeped in local traditions and important to community identity, they may also reinforce negative stereotypes about American Indians” and portray an inaccurate and inauthentic view of American Indians today.

Since then, three schools chose new emblems, leaving 25 schools that still have American Indian mascots, according to state Sen. Jessie Danielson (D), one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

The use of these negative stereotypes is significant and harmful, Danielson said. “These people are not mascots,” she said. “It’s time to discontinue this practice.”

For help complying with the new law, schools can apply for money through the “Best Excellent Schools Today” program operated by the state Department of Education, though more funding may be needed to pay for changes to mascots and buildings, Polis wrote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tripp Baltz in Denver at abaltz@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com

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