Montrose High School needs a new mascot.
A recently passed bill, which Gov. Polis is soon expected to sign into law, bans Native American mascots at public schools in Colorado. To avoid a $25,000 monthly fine, Montrose High School, as well as Centennial Middle School, need to select new mascots.
“At this point, it’s out of our hands because it’s required by law, so we’re going to move forward accordingly,” Montrose County School District (MCSD) spokesman Matt Jenkins explained.
Montrose High School’s current mascot is the Indians. A totem pole is still prominently displayed on the football field. The mascot for Centennial Middle School is the Braves and the official logo is a Native American man wearing a headdress.
Jenkins elaborated that selecting a new mascot will be a “community effort” over the course of the next 12 months.
“The school mascot is rich in culture, and the community holds tightly to the value and pride they have in their high school mascot and the middle school mascot,” Jenkins said. “As a result, every stakeholder is going to be engaged, from the school board, to students, to staff members, to parents, to families.”
SB 21-116 bans Native American mascots from publicly funded Colorado schools starting on June 1, 2022. If schools have agreements with a Native American tribe to use the mascot enacted before June 30 of this year, such as Arapahoe High School in Littleton, they are allowed to keep the mascot.
Although speculation about an existing agreement between MCSD and Native American groups abounds, MSCD Superintendent Carrie Stevenson told the Daily Press that a formal agreement with a tribe appears to be an “urban legend.”
Jenkins noted that the school district and student government have worked with CJ Brafford, the director of Montrose’s Ute Indian Museum, to “ensure that those mascots were respectful.”
“That was a positive relationship, but as a result of this legislation, it’s taken the issue out of our hands, and we don’t have a choice as to whether or not the mascots are going to stay Native American,” Jenkins said. “The law is going to require those to change, and so we’re going to adjust accordingly.”
The Montrose Daily Press was unable to reach Brafford for comment for this article.
Discussions to change Montrose’s mascot have been underway since at least 2002, when a Greeley-based group, Coloradans Against Ethnic Stereotyping in Colorado Schools, called for change. In 2015, a similar bill to the one that was recently passed — including a $25,000 monthly fine for schools that would not comply — failed along a party-line vote in the Republican-led senate.
After the bill failed, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper established a commission to study Native American mascots in schools. The commission recommended that local communities replace mascots or form respectful partnerships with federally recognized tribes, but only two schools took action on removing the mascots.
With Democratic control in both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly, the newer iteration of the ban was one of 502 bills passed during this year’s legislative session. However, the elected officials representing Montrose at the capitol, both Republicans, voted against the bill.
Gov. Jared Polis’ press secretary, Conor Cahill, confirmed that Polis is expected to sign the bill into law soon. Approximately 24 schools across Colorado that still feature indigenous mascots will be affected.
“The governor appreciates the work of legislators to address the harmful effects that unapproved use of Native American mascots has on students, families and communities and pending a final review, will plan to sign the legislation,” Cahill wrote in a statement. “The governor will continue to help ensure school districts and schools have the resources they need to make any needed changes, facilitate conversations with tribes and help make sure every child is safe in school.”
Jenkins added that before new mascots are finalized, the school district will assess how much the switch will cost. Schools can apply for state-funded grants to finance the mandated changes.
“We’re looking at a lot of different changes: not just buildings, scoreboards and gym floors, but also uniforms and various apparels,” Jenkins explained. “There’s going to need to be a needs assessment where we quantify and formalize everything that needs to get changed.”
Montrose Daily Press Managing Editor Justin Tubbs contributed reporting.
Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.