Benson wants state to foot $1 million bill to replace Braves mascot

A new state law passed by the DFL-controlled legislature in 2023 bans the use of Indian mascots and logos, unless schools receive a unanimous exemption from all of Minnesota’s tribal governments and the Tribal Nations Education Committee. Yet less than half of state’s eleven tribal governments even bothered to respond by the deadline to a request from Benson Schools for an exemption to retain the Braves mascot identified with the western Minnesota community since World War II.

Of the five entities that did weigh in, just one–Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa–gave the OK, dooming the Braves mascot that’s represented Benson schools for more than three-quarters of a century.

“After careful review of the information submitted, the Tribal Council of the White Earth Reservation made the decision to say no regarding the exemption,” its letter stated. The Little Sioux Indian Community said the same, according to the Swift County Monitor.

“The Tribal Nation’s Education Committee has reviewed your request. The TNEC denies your exemption request for the Braves name and mascot,” its letter read.

But in their zeal to force change, lawmakers failed to account for the financial fallout on school districts made to comply with the new state mandate. Benson school officials insist there’s no way the district can afford to pay the approximately $1 million to replace the now officially objectionable symbol. As a result, the West Central Tribune says school officials officials intend to pause the process to put the onus on state lawmakers and Gov. Tim Walz for a solution.

School board members in Benson are waiting until after the 2024 legislative session before they take any action on changing the school’s Braves mascot and logo.

Superintendent Dennis Laumeyer said that based on the opposition the district has heard to continued use, school board members agreed during discussions at their meeting Jan. 8 that the district will likely need to change its mascot and logo.

They are not ready to do so quite yet. There is no clear direction for schools on what they need to do, and no funding provided to do so.

Other than that, what could go wrong? The mandate would force Benson to divert funding for classrooms and educational activities to replace anything bearing the Braves mascot, including athletic jerseys, scoreboards, signs, stationery and more. Apparently, that’s not going to happen.

The Benson district has contacted its local legislators, state Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Alexandria, and Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, in hopes of seeing funding help provided as part of legislation considered this session.

The superintendent said the district has also contacted Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan seeking help, as well as state Sen. Mary Kunesh, D-New Brighton, who was author of the bill.

Laumeyer has also been in communication with the Minnesota Department of Education for assistance. The district is asking the department for a list of all the schools affected by the legislation.

Benson district officials also have questions about other schools with Indian mascots. Warroad, for example, was allowed by the tribes and committee to keep its long-standing Warriors mascot, following extensive lobbying in St. Paul.