Law banning Native American names sticks schools with big bills

DFL legislators have been on the warpath for years. So the newly passed ban on using Native American names and mascots in public schools undoubtedly ranked as one of the caucus’ top feel-good wins of the session. The prohibition included in the education bill forces up to 11 school districts scattered around the state to ditch their longtime mascots and anything to do with them.

“A public school may not have or adopt a name, symbol or image that depicts or refers to an American Indian Tribe, individual, custom, or tradition to be used as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead, or team name of the district or school within the district.”

The ban even apparently applies to the Warroad Warriors, despite the proud tradition behind the mascot honoring the fallen in a battle between the Sioux and Ogibwe bands. Forum News noted that Warroad’s most famous hockey player and an Ogibwe himself, Henry Boucha, testified along with school officials against banning the Warriors mascot and its rich history.

The nickname has been challenged in the past. In 2014, the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media threatened to sue the school district if it did not give up its nickname, but ended up supporting the nickname after a case was made for its ties to Warroad’s history.

The current logo used by Warroad Public Schools was designed by an Indigenous artist and is trademarked by the school’s American Indian Parent Advisory Committee. Proceeds from the sales of merchandise with the logo are used to fund programming for Indigenous youth in the community.

The elimination of the Warriors logo would be a great loss to the identity of the northern Minnesota school and community. It would also result in a significant cost to taxpayers and the Native American groups that receive the proceeds from the logo’s sales.

“Not only does it take away funding for Indigenous youth programming, but in the short term, it would be excessively onerous to try to replace all of the various aspects from probably hundreds of thousands of dollars, not just in sports uniforms,” Yates said. “We quickly get into the range of half a million dollars or more in actual fiscal impact.”

Other districts also say the ban will cost their taxpayers dearly. Benson Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Laumeyer told the West Central Tribune replacing the Braves mascot could total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The new legislation could prove costly for the district if the mascot must be eliminated. The superintendent said it’s possible the district could see costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Brave mascot is painted on gymnasium floors and other locations, as well as engraved on the exterior of the school building. Everything from sports teams uniforms to letter stationary would need to be replaced.

The legislation offers no funding for a transition. The district has not set aside funds for the potential costs associated with replacing the mascot. It would likely require as much as three years for the district to comply with all of the requirements, he said.

Technically, schools can obtain an exemption to the ban, but only if all tribal entities in the state approve it. Warroad may be the one district that has a chance of getting a reprieve if applied for, but as Forum columnist Jess Myers pointed out, only by subjecting themselves to an all too familiar process.

We live in a place and an era where we celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day rather than honor the complicated legacy of Christopher Columbus. Still, a handful of Minnesota politicians are determined to uphold one of the Italian explorer’s 500-year-old traditions and tell some of Minnesota’s native people what they are allowed to call themselves, in 2023.