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Washington Governor Signs Ban On Native American Mascots

The law prohibits schools from using Native American names, symbols, and imagery as mascots, logos or team names.
Jun 25, 2014: Native Americans protest the use of the Chief Wahoo mascot by the Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball team outside a regular season game between the Cleveland Indians and the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
Doug James/Icon SMI/Corbin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Monday signed a bill banning Native American mascots at most public schools in the state.

The law prohibits schools from using Native American names, symbols, and imagery as mascots, logos, or team names unless a tribal government has approved the proposal.

“This bill will end the disrespectful use of Native American imagery in our public schools,” Inslee, a Democrat, said at a signing ceremony for the bill in Olympia, Washington.

The bill also requests that the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction establish a grant program to assist schools with the potential costs associated with altering names and imagery. The ban takes effect on January 1 of next year, and schools using Native American imagery or names must come up with a new mascot by Dec. 31. As of 2022, affected schools will not be able to purchase uniforms with the old mascot or name.

The measure passed the state Senate on April 6 and the state House on April 12.

The new law comes as several high-profile organizations with Native American mascots take steps to change their imagery.

Last month, the Cleveland Indians of the MLB announced that headdresses or facepaint “styled in a way that references or appropriates American Indian cultures or traditions,” are prohibited at games. Fans who violate the new policy face ejection from the stadium or the refusal of admission.

The Indians still allow fans to wear attire featuring Chief Wahoo, the team’s original mascot, the grinning, red-faced cartoon caricature of a Native American chief which the team has used since 1947. The mascot, which has sparked complaints for decades, was removed from players’ uniforms in 2018, though the franchise still sells merchandise with the Chief Wahoo logo. The team is also in the process of changing its name from “Indians,” to a “new, non-Native American based name,” MLB said.

The Kansas City Chiefs implemented a similar policy last year, prohibiting fans from attending NFL games in Arrowhead Stadium if they were donning headdresses or face paint based on Native American culture.

In July, Washington, D.C.’s NFL team announced that it will no longer go by the name “Redskins,” but will instead be known as the “Washington Football Team” until a new name is chosen.

“We encourage fans, media and all other parties to use ‘Washington Football Team’ immediately,” the team said in a statement at the time.

The Atlanta Braves, another team accused of using racist Native American imagery, have so far made no significant moves to change their team name. According to the organization, it has discussed the issue with Native American groups and “through our conversations, changing the name of the Braves is not under consideration or deemed necessary.”

However, the Braves are considering chopping “the chop,” the tomahawk motion fans make at games, saying that the controversial tradition is “one of the many issues that we are working through with the advisory group”.

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