Elko, Nevada, will keep high school’s ‘Indian’ mascot
Jennifer Solis/Nevada Current
Elko High School will continue using an “Indian” mascot after county officials voted unanimously to keep the name this week.
“We’re not making any changes to any mascots at this time,” said Clayton Anderson, the district superintendent, during an Elko County School District Board of Trustees meeting.
Last year, Nevada passed a law prohibiting schools from using racially discriminatory identifiers in an effort to scrub schools of outdated and inappropriate mascots.
The bill, however, made an exception for Nevada schools that have a formal agreement with a local tribe permitting the use of such mascots.
At the district’s request, the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone submitted a tribal resolution allowing the Elko County School District to retain the name “Indians” as the school mascot.
The tribe’s resolution passed with five members of the Te-Moak Tribal Council voting in favor and two voting against the agreement.
While the resolution gives the Elko school district permission to continue using the “Indian” mascot, it also came with stipulations.
The Elko County School District has agreed to incorporate long ignored historical events in American History related to the treatment of Native Americans as part of the district’s curriculum, according to the resolution.
“The Te-Moak Tribal Council hereby approves the Elko County School District request to retain the name ‘Indians’ as their Elko High School mascot as long as all terms agreed to are kept and that all and any future stereotypes, derogatory, and offensive symbols and materials shall be removed and an the Educational Curriculum of the Native Americans History shall be incorporated within the School American History Curriculum,” reads the tribal resolution.
Elko is the only high school in Nevada to use the nickname “Indians,” which has been a controversial mascot around the nation for decades. Not all tribes and tribal citizens are in agreement on the issue.
The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony has been vocal about opposition to “racially offensive mascot names.”
During a hearing on the state Legislature’s bill last year, a representative for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony cited Elko High School’s as an example of offensive mascot names.
Marla McDade Williams, an enrolled member of the Te-Moak Tribe of the Western Shoshone and lobbyist for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, spoke about her time at the high school as a “powerless” student while advocating for the bill.
“I went to Elko High School, whose mascot is the Indians,” Williams said. “While someone from the tribe may have submitted a letter saying the name is okay with the tribe, it is not necessarily okay with everyone in that community.”
At one point the mascot art used by Elko High School was “changed to be a more respectful representation of a Native headdress” said Williams.
“That does not change the fact that in representing the Indians, there are the offensive and sometimes flat-out racist comments thrown at the athletes,” she continued. “Growing up, I constantly heard talk about how the high school mascot was the Indians, but there was not a Native on the team, and it was not for a lack of talent. I was a Native student athlete and I had to compartmentalize and separate myself from the jeering about my culture. As a student, you are powerless to do anything else, and you have a mixed sense of pride for your school.”
Laurie Thom, a former chair for the Yerington Paiute Tribe, has also spoken against the use of the school’s “Indians” mascot. Thom said during her time as a high school athlete she played in and attended athletic events that reinforce negative stereotypes of Indiginous people, including “adults spitting on young Native athletes,” and “seeing entire gyms full of non-Natives doing the “‘tomahawk chop.’”
Brian Mason, the Vice-Chairman of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, sent the Elko school board a letter stating the tribe’s approval of the Owyhee High School “Braves” logo which features an illustration of a Native American man in traditional regalia.
Mason noted that the logo used by Owyhee High School was crafted by a tribal citizen who graduated in 1974. The school also has less than a 5% non-Native enrollment population, said Mason.
“In no way, shape, or form do we feel that our Braves logo denigrates our student population. In fact, it cultivates and promotes our tribal culture, contributing to the overall well-being of our young people and our community, most of whom are alumni of the Owyhee High School,” the letter reads.
During the vote to keep Elko High School’s “Indian” mascot, school board members said that Nevada schools were using “historically relevant mascots.”
Anderson, the superintendent of the Elko County School District, argued that the “essence” of the state law was not meant “to decide who was being discriminatory and who was not” but to “get communities to come together and if there were things of concern to get people to talk about it.”
Officials for the high school said they have worked alongside the Te-Moak Tribal Council to ensure its mascot and logos are not offensive. Its logo of a chief head has been a part of the school since at least the early 1980s.
“The Elko County School District realizes that certain items associated with the name ‘Indians’ may be problematic and offensive to the tribe and have agreed to work on removing all stereotype wording, symbols and any other types of offensive materials associated with the school mascot and word ‘Indians’ currently and in the future,” reads the tribal resolution.
Clark County recently faced a similar reckoning after years of criticism from students in schools with discriminatory mascots.
In 2020, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas removed a statue of its controversial mascot “Hey Reb” after UNLV President Marta Meana had conversations with various groups on “how best the university can move forward given recent events throughout our nation.”
Western High School also moved away from using an illustration of a man in a headdress and war paint as a mascot after criticism. The logo has since been switched to a large “W.”
Matt McCarty, a member of the Elko County school board, assured those who attended the meeting that the resolution “does allow for the governing body to use names, logos, mascots, songs, or other identifiers if the governing body obtains approval.”
“If this was not legally required under NRS I think we’d have a different discussion and I appreciate that sometimes we have to do what the state says we have to do, I’ll leave it at that,” McCarty said.