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Spokane Public Schools Board votes unanimously to change North Central, Garry mascots

The North Central High School Indians and the Garry Middle School Chiefs will have new mascots by Jan. 2022.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane Public Schools Board of Directors voted unanimously to change the mascots and symbols at two schools. This comes after Governor Jay Inslee signed a measure to ban the use of Native American names, symbols and images as school mascots, logos and team names at most public schools.

North Central High School and Garry Middle School have the Indians and the Chiefs, respectively, as their mascots. This comes after students, alumni, and community members spoke up in favor of removing Native American symbols in a meeting last month.

An Indigenous mother, who went to North Central High School as a teenager, became acutely aware of her school's mascot and symbol a caricature of her. Qallaq is her Inupiaq name but friends around Spokane know her as Tara Ramos.

"They have no reason to hold on to archaic, racist trope," Ramos said. "They have every reason, including my children, that they should change it."

She has been urging SPS administration to change the mascot for 25 years. Now, her three children are now in the SPS school system.

"Indigenous people are still here, we're still in existence, we still have sovereignty and rights to our lands and rights to our ways of life, and our rights to our, to our own image," she added.

During a meeting in March, the board discussed possible changes to the high school's mascot and accompanying symbol. NCHS has had an "Indian" as its mascot since the 1920s, but many people have said the imagery is offensive and inappropriate. In a public meeting in April, every person who attended said the imagery is offensive and inappropriate.  

"It feels really disrespectful, it feels really painful, it's historically challenging and it's historically painful," Ramos said. "And honestly, it hurts my heart. It hurts the heart of the children who are watching and seeing that disrespect, and that's not okay."

Credit: Tara Ramos
Tara Ramos and family

Ramos said that changing the mascots and symbols of these schools is not erasing history, the argument made by community members who oppose the change. 

"It's not a changing of history, because we're still here," she added. "It's just making known that it's not okay to do something to dehumanize Indigenous peoples again and again and again. To continue to take away from us, continue to take our cultures, to continue to take our languages, to continue take our children from us."

The mascot change would simply by respecting the Indigenous community members that are still alive, she said. She added that by dehumanizing by allowing these characters to exist, society allows the continued dehumanization that allows policies and practices to continue to play out on their children and families.

"The other thing is, it's not honoring when we tell you it's not honoring," she added, noting the other argument made against changing the mascots. "When we're the most impacted, it's about us and we're telling you it's not honoring. It's as simple as that. It doesn't matter what your intent is, what matters is your impact and the impact is painful."

North Central was not the only change. The Garry Middle School Chiefs will soon be developing a new mascot. The board also voted unanimously to rename Sheridan Elementary.  The school is currently named after a general who oppressed Native American people. They will be starting the process of hearing community feedback on name recommendations.

"I think the school district actually has a duty to educate the public and educate their students and their staff on anti-Indigeneity," she said. "Anti-Indigeneity is this idea that, from the root and the beginning of the United States, Indigenous people have been hated. They've been characterized, they've been terrorized, they've been murdered, raped, killed, enslaved, pushed off their lands, their resources taken, their language taken and their children taken. 

"So this is just one small step in achieving what what we would consider repatriation of our rights and our honor and respect for us," Ramos added. 

Both schools must present their recommendation for new mascots no later than the board's only meeting in December 2021. Under the measure, school districts would have some time to phase out the mascot, team name or logo, but they would be required to select a new mascot to take effect by the end of the 2021-22 school year. Starting in 2022, they would not be able to purchase uniforms that include the old mascot or name.