POCATELLO — The stance of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes on Pocatello High School’s use of the Indians moniker and mascot has been one of both support and opposition over the years.
But the Tribes will have an opportunity to voice what is now an opinion of sound dissent on the school’s usage of Native American imagery and nicknames during a 5:30 p.m. Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday at the district’s main office on Pole Line Road.
School District 25 board members have the option of voting to retire the Indians moniker and mascot during the meeting.
If the board opts to go in that direction, discussions will then shift toward a timeline for phasing out the Indians name, according to the meeting agenda.
The push to address stereotypes of Native American people in popular culture, media and sports began in the late ’60s. For decades, groups like the National Congress of American Indians have appealed to professional sports teams, colleges and high schools to eliminate names and logos that they say are dehumanizing, disrespectful and racist.
Today, more than 2,200 high schools use Native imagery in their school names and mascots, according to Mascot DB, a database of team names. Pocatello High School is one of nine Idaho high schools with an indigenous-themed mascot, including Preston High School Indians in Preston, Salmon River High School Savages in Riggins, Salmon High School Savages in Salmon, Shoshone-Bannock High School Chiefs in Fort Hall, Shoshone High School Indians in Shoshone, Buhl High School Indians in Buhl, Kootenai High School Warriors in Harrison and Meridian High School Warriors in Meridian. The Teton High School Redskins in Driggs, Boise High School Braves in Boise and Nezperce High School Indians in Nezperce have all voted to retire their Native American-themed mascots within the past year.
The controversy surrounding the Pocatello High School Indians name and mascot is not new, but has been reinvigorated since the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes authored a letter to the Idaho Legislature and State Board of Education last year calling for the state “to take a stand and establish state policy to prohibit public schools from using (Native American-themed) names as school mascots.” The Tribes argued in the June 2019 position paper and letter that using mascots with names like “Redskins,” “Indians,” “Savages,” and “Braves” amounted to racial misappropriation.
In the early 1970s, the Tribes were supportive of Pocatello High School using Indians as its mascot. The earliest known support from the Tribes regarding the Indians mascot came on Sept, 7, 1973, when the Fort Hall Business Council published a resolution in the Idaho State Journal.
“The Shoshone Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation … have an abiding respect for the symbol “Indian,” inasmuch as it designates their race and represents a traditional and historical background to the Tribes,” the resolution read. “The Shoshone Bannock Tribes have viewed the name ‘Indians’ by the Pocatello High School as one of respect and regard for the Indian people and feel honored that the school selected the Indian name as a means of building honor, pride, dignity and competitive spirit among its students.”
Additionally, the resolution stated that a minority group of individuals living on the Fort Hall Reservation were those who took offense to the school’s use of the moniker and mascot. The resolution stated the Shoshone Bannock Tribes opposed the viewpoints of those minority groups who believed the Indians mascot was disrespectful, describing the opinion as unjustified and calling for it to be discontinued. This resolution supported both the Indians name and mascot as well as the usage of Indianettes by the school’s drill team.
Fast forward about two decades and the support of the Pocatello High School Indians from the Tribes began to waver.
In January of 1994, the Tribes published a resolution in the Idaho State Journal denouncing not only Pocatello High School’s usage of Indians, but also calling on the Idaho Governor at the time, Cecil Andrus, and the Pocatello Chamber of Commerce to refrain from using Native American headdresses or the term “Indians” in any way. The resolution was authored after the cover of the State of Idaho’s Department of Commerce’s quarterly newsletter depicted several non-Native individuals wearing warbonnets.
“Neither the state, nor the city, have approached the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes to better relationships to assist with the development of the economy within the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, except to pursue the resources of the reservation to improve their own economies at the expense of the Tribes,” the 1994 resolution reads. “The Pocatello High School and other schools within the state flaunt their use of the term ‘Indians,’ or other depictions of the American Indian, with disregard and lack of respect for the feelings of the Tribes and its membership.”
The resolution called for Gov. Andrus, the Pocatello Chamber of Commerce and Pocatello High School to discontinue the practice of utilizing the Native American headdress and/or any other depiction of Indians in any way.
Acting Tribal Business Council Chairman Kevin Callahan recently sent School District 25 a letter urging Pocatello High School to retire the Indians name and mascot. Callahan wrote that it’s a major misconception that Indian mascots honor Native Americans and noted the Tribe’s opinion regarding Pocatello High School using Indians as its mascot has changed over the years..
“The Tribes have a long history of both support and opposition to using the Indians name, mascot and Native American imagery,” Callahan wrote. “However, at this time the Tribes support changing the use of Indians as associated with Pocatello High School. ... While historically there has been a general acceptance of this type of behavior, that is no longer the situation.”
Whether the Pocatello High School Indians is a thing of the past remains a mystery, but the community is surely set to learn more about this controversial undertaking during Tuesday’s board meeting. The meeting is open to the public, and time has been set aside for opponents and proponents of the suggestion to retire the Indians mascot to provide pubic comment.