House Bill seeks to change how Native American symbols are used

A proposed house bill seeks to prohibit inappropriate uses of images for a variety of purposes.

Kirk Galang, Staff

As early as late January of 2021 to now, a bill is gaining attention in Olympia that would prohibit the inappropriate use of Native symbols, names and images, as public school mascots, logos or team names. 

House Bill 1356 was introduced by Rep. Debra Lekanoff; who is Tlingit and Aleut. Lekanoff is the only Native American person currently serving in the Washington state legislature. Representative Lekanoff engages in a span of various policy issues that include, but not limited to, environment, climate change, agriculture, education and housing. 

In a statement Lekanoff said “This bill is a small change that would bring about healing and show respect for our Native American neighbors and friends.”

Lekanoff is not the first person to bring up this issue, nor was HB 1356 the first attempt at a solution. The Washington Board of Education adopted the 2012 Native American Mascot Resolution, encouraging school districts across the state to re-examine the use of Native related mascots. The resolution cited an American Psychological Association research recommending the retirement of Native American Mascots. 

In the summary Stephanie Fryberg, PhD, University of Arizona, reported “American Indian mascots are harmful not only because they are often negative, but because they remind American Indians of the limited ways in which others see them. This in turn restricts the number of ways American Indians can see themselves” 

Though this conversation is not new, it was sparked by the protesting of systemic racism and the horrific and unjust murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery and more. This led to companies and businesses to reevaluate their branding. The list consists of, but not limited to,  Aunt Jemima, Land O Lakes, Uncle Ben’s and more. These changes naturally entered the sports world. On July 13, 2020, the NFL team located in the nation’s capital dropped their racist moniker and retired the name ‘Redskins’. The team will be called The Washington Football Team until a further name and brand is official. 

In a statement from the Navajo Tribe after the decision was quoted in saying “July 13, 2020 is now a historic day for all Indigenous peoples around the world as the NFL Washington-based team officially announced the retirement of the racist and disparaging ‘Redskins’ team name and logo,”.

On December 13, 2020 the New York Times broke the news in reporting that the MLB club based in Cleveland will soon rebrand and drop their name as the Cleveland “Indians”. This action was also in part due to the  backlash the club has gotten for a recently retired mascot called Chief Wahoo. A racially insensitive and blatantly racist depiction of a Native American head who is bright red, with a large nose,with a large grin and a feather from behind the head. They also added that this change will not be immediate, like the Washington Football Team, as they will keep their name and uniforms for the 2021 MLB season. The actions taken by the Washington Football Team and the Cleveland based MLB team inspired Lekanoff for the creation of the bill. 

 The baseball star and former Cleveland shortstop, currently on the New York Mets, Francisco Lindor, stated “Society is shifting and we are due for a change.”