South Dakota School Group Wades Slowly Into Mascot Debate

Rather than taking a bold step in its handling of the controversial issue, the South Dakota High School Activities Association has chosen a measured approach of advising schools against using Native American mascots, instead of banning them.

A leading high school association in South Dakota took a step to encourage debate about Native American mascots in its state, but its measured action has drawn a few frustrated responses.

This week, the South Dakota High School Activities Association passed a resolution asking high schools to “consider not using any stereotypical Indian imagery and Indian mascots that cause harm.”

“It is very clear that Indian mascots, and any representation of stereotypical Indian imagery, not only cause harm to American Indian youth, but, moreover, such imagery is not suitable for educational settings which aim to foster healthy psychological development and/or student self-actualization,” the resolution continues.

The recommendation doesn’t go as far as measures in states such as California, which passed a law banning the use of such mascots last year. But the move is particularly notable for South Dakota, a state in which nearly 9 percent of residents are Native Americans, according to U.S. Census data. That’s a level far higher than most states—only Alaska and New Mexico have higher percentages of Native Americans in their populations.

Jason Uttermark, the association’s board chairperson, noted that the softer approach was intentional, as it ultimately allows the schools themselves to make the decision.

“The nice thing about the resolution is we just have to keep those things in the front of our mind,” Uttermark said at a meeting earlier this week, according to the Rapid City Journal. “Just take a look, that’s all we’re asking.”

Not everyone agreed with the more passive stance, however. Ron Evenson, a longtime school board member at the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate reservation, said that the association should be willing to take a more firm, yes-or-no stance on the issue.

“The argument should be right here. You folks should be deciding this,” Evenson said at the meeting, according to the Grand Forks Herald. “If you’re not willing to go that route, then you should reject this resolution.”

Word of the potential resolution first came out in November, at which time Uttermark noted that the board didn’t want to rush into a decision on this issue due to the sensitivities involved. He added that, during his time on the board, he had found that it was better to take a slower, more methodical approach.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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