Illinois schools may ban Native American mascots for K-12 institutions

Legislators in Illinois are pushing for a mandate that would prohibit K-12 schools from utilizing Native American mascots or symbols. House bill 5617, introduced by state Rep. Maurice West, aims to compel schools to modify any logos, mascots, or names that reference Native American tribes or aspects of Native American culture.

The legislation also bars schools from vending items featuring prohibited mascots and mandates the removal of banned logos from school premises. As of the year 2021, over 50 high schools within the state incorporated Native American monikers or visuals into their mascots, according to Illinois Public Media.

During a recent briefing, Dr. Megan Bang, the Director of Northwestern University’s Center for Native American and Indigenous Research, asserted that such mascots contribute to an unwelcoming educational atmosphere, as reported by WAND TV, a local news outlet in Illinois.

“Their widespread presence in schools has consistently proven to not only negatively impact children but also perpetuate a society based on misinformation and detrimental perceptions,” declared Bang in a statement to journalists. She further emphasized that research elucidates how mascot designations like Warriors, Indians, and Braves have adverse effects on Native American youths.

When will the legislation come into force?

Schools must undertake the transition to new mascots by September 1, 2027, affording them ample time to select new logos, procure new uniforms, or update sports facilities to feature Native American motifs.

Although Rep. Maurice West introduced the bill on February 9, the bill has yet to be allocated to a House committee.

Prohibiting Native American mascots in educational institutions nationwide

In a 2020 report, fivethirtyeight.com identified over 1,200 high schools across the U.S. that still retain Native American-themed mascots and emblems.

Various school districts around the country have already taken steps to phase out Native-themed mascots.

New York state endorsed a prohibition on Native American-themed logos and mascots last year, mandating that these logos be discontinued by 2025 unless schools obtain authorization from a recognized Native American tribe to retain them, as per NPR’s coverage. Fifty-five school districts and twelve high schools on Long Island adorn themselves with Native American-themed symbols.

In Washington state, educational institutions are obligated to secure permission from the closest federally acknowledged tribe to utilize a mascot.

Rep. Laura Faver Dias, a co-sponsor of the bill, voiced that banning Native American mascots could foster a more all-encompassing educational setting for students and faculty, as outlined in the report by WAND TV.

“Having previously been a public school educator, I once taught at a school that at present retains a racially insensitive mascot,” disclosed Faver Dias. “It represented an offensive caricature of an American Indian. I witnessed firsthand the discord it generated among our students and throughout our broader school community.”

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