The Bulletin Board

House committee takes public input on a bill to ban Native American mascots

By: - January 19, 2022 11:43 am
State House dome underneath a cloudy sky

Democrats argued that the costs of climate change are real. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Members of the public weighed in on a bill to ban the use of Native American mascots during a hearing before the House Education Committee on Tuesday. The bill garnered support from the ACLU, two tribal leaders, a member of the Concord School Board, a retired teacher, and a youth group leader.

House Bill 1261 would prohibit the use of Native American mascots in public schools, including colleges and universities. By removing “derogatory” mascots, the legislation aims to create a more inclusive and safe learning environment, pointing to the negative mental health impact these mascots have on Native American youth and the way they spread inaccurate information about contemporary indigenous people, teaching non-native students “that it is acceptable to participate in culturally abusive and prejudicial behaviors.”

“This bill is about stopping public schools from perpetuating negative and damaging stereotypes about indigenous people,” said Frank Knaack, policy director for the New Hampshire ACLU.

The New Hampshire State Board of Education adopted language in 2002 in support of getting rid of Native American mascots. Twenty years later there are several schools still using this kind of mascot.

Rep. Michael Moffett, a Loudon Republican, asked whether a mascot ban would be a First Amendment issue by telling schools what they can call their teams. Other committee members asked whether mascots were, in fact, a source of pride for indigenous communities.

Denise Pouliot, a tribal leader for the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki People, linked dehumanizing imagery of indigenous people to disproportionately high rates of indigenous women who are missing and murdered. “We sit here today praying that you decide to see us as human beings and stop the use of these mascots,” Pouliot told lawmakers.

Maine passed similar legislation in 2019, and a proposal to ban Native American mascots was also introduced in Massachusetts this year.

Kristin Forselius, director of education at the Community Church of Durham, said younger generations also support the ban and read lawmakers a statement from the church’s youth group. 

“They want school mascots in their state to represent their generation, one that they see as respectful, compassionate and inclusive, and one that they can be proud of,” she said.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.