WARRENTON — Administrators in the Warrenton-Hammond School District have walked a fine line between school pride and state law regarding the image of the Warriors.
Gone are the cartoonish visages of Native Americans around the district’s campuses, save for some mats depicting Mohawk warriors at Warrenton Elementary School the district plans to replace. The district has opted for an arrow with a feather, accompanied by the school’s “W,” to adorn merchandise.
“We’re limited to some really core stuff that I would almost consider artwork,” Warrenton High School Principal Rod Heyen told the Warrenton-Hammond School Board Tuesday.
Heyen is appealing to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, the nearest federally recognized tribe, as the Oregon State Board of Education decides in the coming months whether to let tribal endorsement trump a ban on Native American mascots by 2017.
The mascot ban was approved in 2012 after concerns about racial stereotyping, but state educators might allow exemptions if school districts consult with tribes.
In preparation for the visit with the Grand Ronde, Heyen said, he met with members of the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes to gauge their opinion on the Warriors’ imagery. Many members of the Clatsop-Nehalem have grown up in the region and attended Warrenton schools. But even in a smaller group, he said, responses ranged from offense to neutrality.
“I anticipate the same type of conversations with Grand Ronde,” Heyen said, adding his hope is to have a plan shortly before or after Christmas break.
Heyen said local support for the Warrior mascot is overwhelming. He will also head to Grand Ronde with a letter of support from Clatsop-Nehalem tribal Chairwoman Diane Collier, who attended school in Warrenton and worked for the district as a bus driver for 30 years.
“As an American Indian, I have no problem with the Warrior in our schools,” Collier said in her letter. “I feel the image today is handled very respectfully, and I would hate for the school and the community to lose something so closely tied to our sense of pride and spirit.”
Superintendent Mark Jeffery, a former district head from Willamina, less than 10 miles northeast of Grand Ronde, said the tribe would help Warrenton figure out which parts of the Warriors’ imagery are acceptable.
“The challenge here in the community is Mr. Purple Guy out front of the building,” Heyen said, referring to the 8-foot-tall metal warrior statue in front of the high school. The statue, which features a Native American with a hatchet and a headdress, is made of 1,000 smaller warriors fused together by Warrenton students in the 1970s.
Heyen said there are four likely outcomes for the Warrenton Warriors:
• Grand Ronde endorses the Warriors’ current mascot, which Heyen said is the ideal outcome.
• Warrenton switches to a different Warrior-related symbol.
• The Warriors name stays, but with no mascot.
• Warrenton changes the mascot entirely.
A tribal trump card?
The state Board of Education meets Thursday and will hear the first reading of an amendment that would allow districts to keep Native American mascots through written agreements with federally recognized tribes. The state board will hear a second reading and decide whether to adopt the amendment in January.
The amendment came from a state law passed in 2014 that allowed schools to use “a mascot that represents, is associated with or is significant to the Native American tribe entering into the agreement.”
The law was the second attempt by the state Legislature to work an exemption into the ban using tribal endorsements. The first passed the Legislature in 2013 but was vetoed by former Gov. John Kitzhaber.
“It’s a little up in the air who has the final say on this,” Jeffery said of the amendment, adding the Board of Education is getting pressure from the Legislature to approve it. “There is some indication the governor (Kate Brown) will have the final say.”
The confederated tribes of the Siletz and Grand Ronde both criticized the mascot ban in 2012 as not solving the real issues behind racism and not allowing tribes to work with districts on the portrayal of Native Americans. A representative from Grand Ronde told The Oregonian the decision trampled over the sovereignty of tribes and overlooked the need for a curriculum to accurately describe Oregon’s native history.
“There will be some requirements on their part as far as Native American curriculum, and they’ve been good about developing local Native American curriculum,” Jeffery said.