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Image of a Warrior

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Sales of Lebanon Warrior gear spiked at Northwest Apparel & Graphics a few years ago following a State Board of Education ruling that schools must eliminate Native American imagery.

People worried the high school's iconic logo of a Native American man in a feathered headdress would become a limited commodity, owner Yvette Meyer explained. 

But even as the 2017 clock ticks down to the deadline for removal of all such imagery from Lebanon High School, Meyer said customers will still be able to find the old logo at her place.

"I'll never stop making it," she said. "I'm an alum, 1985. And it just seems wrong to have it go away."

The State Board of Education ruled in 2012 that all Oregon public schools, kindergarten through 12th grade, had to stop using American Indian names, symbols, or images as school mascots by July 1, 2017. Those who don't risk the loss of state funding.

The decision left room for districts like Lebanon and Philomath to keep the "Warrior" name because it does not specifically carry a Native American connotation, but said it can't be linked with a symbol or image that refers to any Indian tribe, individual, custom or tradition.

State Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, whose district includes Lebanon, passed a bill in 2014 to allow school districts with Native American names and imagery to keep them if they worked out agreements with local tribes. That's an angle the state has grudgingly allowed — as long as whatever agreement is reached is also approved by the state board — but Lebanon educators say they don't plan to take that road.

"The process the state ended up with was very limited and did not fit our needs," Superintendent Rob Hess said.

The high school will remain "Warriors" and will keep a metal sculpture of an American Indian man on horseback on the outer wall of the Bud Page Activity Center, Hess said. But it is shifting away from the headdress logo, which can be seen throughout the interior of the building, to a simple "LW."

"The Native American imagery on the side of the gym is considered artwork and can stay," he said. "The high school has transitioned to the LW brand (image on gym floor and football field) and will be using that image on websites, apparel, and throughout the school."

At Northwest Apparel & Graphics, Meyer said she gets requests for the "LW" logo about as often as the headdress. She plans to continue to offer both.

"I don't understand, personally, what disrespect it (the headdress) could have toward the tribe or the culture," she said. "A lot of alumni, we just shake our heads."

Half a block away, Nemo's Sports Apparel in Lebanon hasn't added the "LW" to its offerings but the headdress Warrior logo remains popular.

Owner Jane Latimer said she's heard there are people who don't like it. However, she added, "None of those people have been through our door." 

The State Board of Education doesn't have any say over what private businesses might offer for sale. And high school sports logos aren't licensed the way colleges are, Latimer added. "So anyone can use this." 

The state first began exploring the question of Native American names and imagery in 2006, following a complaint by a student at Taft High School who was upset by the behavior of a mascot at a basketball game at Molalla. Molalla's mascot has been the Indians.

At the college level, the NCAA discourages the use of American Indian mascots unless special circumstances apply, such as approval of a local tribe.

In 2001, the United States Commission on Civil Rights called for an end to the use of American Indian images and team names by non-native schools, saying their use is "insensitive and should be avoided."

After months of hearings and reports, the State Board of Education in 2012 sided with research that indicates Indian mascots are tantamount to institutionalized racism and give tacit approval for stereotyping, bullying and other negative messages.

The board heard more than eight hours of public testimony and received more than 700 written comments, almost evenly split for and against, before issuing its ruling.

In Lebanon, the state's ruling received support from one former member of the Lebanon School Board, Liz Alperin, who said she didn't believe in supporting race-based mascots or defining groups of people through a single image.

Sprenger, who has long said she believes the issue is about much more than the name or picture on a team jacket, said she's disappointed the discussion appears to have settled at just that level.

If the state board's intent was simply to scare districts into removing Native American names, mascots and imagery, it appears to have worked, she said. However, she added, "That is not good governance, to use fear. Fear is not leadership." 

Sprenger said she had hoped districts would instead work with tribes, getting to know them and adding their information to school history lessons. 

"I'm very disappointed that the relationship-building did not become the focus of this conversation, and that is to the detriment of all our students," she said.

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