Native American Guardians Association sues Colorado over American Indian mascot ban

A North Dakota-based organization this week sued Colorado for banning American Indian school mascots earlier this year, arguing the state shouldn’t outlaw culturally sensitive uses of Native American names and imagery.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court by the Native American Guardian’s Association, names several Colorado officials, including Gov. Jared Polis, Attorney General Phil Weiser and Kathryn Redhorse, the executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. The suit alleges SB21-116 is discriminatory and unconstitutional. Other plaintiffs include a John Doe and Jane Doe, Demetrius Marez, Chase Aubrey Roubideaux and Donald Wayne Smith Jr.

“Plaintiffs oppose the use of American Indian mascot performers and caricatures that mock Native American heritage — such as Lamar High School’s former mascot Chief UghLee or the Atlanta Braves’ former Native American caricature Chief Noc-A-Homa — in sports and other public venues,” the lawsuit states. “Nevertheless, culturally appropriate Native American names, logos and imagery serve to honor Native Americans, and to help public schools neutralize offensive and stereotypical Native American caricatures and iconography, while teaching students and the general public about American Indian history.”

NAGA Board Member Eunice Davidson Wicanhpiwastewin (Good Star Woman) said in a written statement that SB21-116 discriminates against the plaintiffs because “by conferring benefits on non-Native American bystanders who are not the targets of racism and discrimination with regard to Native American names, logos, and imagery.”

The group said in a news release that it was challenging its constitutionality because it bans American Indian mascots and names but does not do this for other groups.

As of July, about 25 schools in Colorado had Native American mascots that had to be changed by June 1, 2022, or they could face monthly fines of $25,000. An exception was made for schools that had existing agreements with tribes — Strasburg and Arapahoe high schools have such agreements.

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Some schools started working on new mascots as the bill made its way through the legislature, but others, such as the Lamar Savages (which uses Native American imagery) had not. The school board decided to hold off until January to make any changes, awaiting a potential lawsuit outcome, according to the Lamar Ledger.

NAGA is known for filing lawsuits across the country against mascot bans or name changes, advocating for more education about Native Americans in public institutions and recognition of their heritage in high-profile venues such as in sports, according to the nonprofit organization’s website. The site features a video from conservative group Turning Point USA decrying socialism and its effects on American Indians.

The group previously has come under fire over its membership and potential ties to organizations like the NFL’s Washington Football Team, which NAGA believes should have kept its Redskins name and mascot.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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