Proposal would give Nebraska schools funds to switch out Native American mascots

Cash incentive seen as creative approach to curb what many called disrespectful use of images

By: - February 22, 2022 6:29 pm
Nebraska State Capitol Building

The Nebraska State Capitol Building on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, in Lincoln. (Rebecca S. Gratz for Nebraska Examiner)

The mascots of 22 Nebraska schools offend Jacqelle Lane. They come, she said, in the form of a chief, a brave, two chieftains, seven Indians and 11 warriors.

Native-themed caricatures — often in warlike or demeaning poses — on gym walls, sports jerseys and megaphones mock a culture and do nothing to advance the attainment or self-esteem of Native American students, Lane testified at a legislative hearing Tuesday.

Rather, she said, they typically perpetuate an inaccurate message about Natives: “They’re not like you and me, they’re others.”

The policy teaching fellow for the Nebraska State Education Association was among nearly a dozen proponents delivering similar discontent to the Legislature’s Education Committee over Native American mascots used by schools with few to no Native student representation.

$200,000 per school

Legislative Bill 1027, introduced by Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, drew no opponents, although two people sent letters objecting to the measure, which is designed to provide financial incentive for 22 Nebraska schools to voluntarily change their mascot.

We're not honored by these mascots

– Judi gaiashkibos, Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs

With a more drastic ban on Native American mascots stalled in the courts of states such as Colorado, Hunt said she decided to take the different, financial incentive approach. Several called it a good start.

The Education Committee took no action on advancing the bill to the full Legislature for discussion. If ultimately approved, the bill would award up to $200,000 to each of the 22 schools to offset the cost of changing a mascot.

The Nebraska Department of Education would establish procedures for the grants. Maximum output by the state would be $4.4 million, according to a fiscal analysis.

Judi gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, did not intend at first to give her full support to the proposal. She prefers an outright ban, she said, and felt that the retooled legislation “dangled a carrot, in a way bribing the schools to do the right thing.” 

After hearing others testify, she reconsidered. “Sometimes you have to do things that are creative to get the job done,” she said.

Not everyone convinced

“We’re not honored by these mascots,” gaiashkibos said. Of school mascots she’s aware of, she said, they depict  either an animal or an Indian. “I don’t think that’s right.”

Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil, a member of the Education Committee, asked for studies and research that some speakers cited in linking the mascots with negative impacts and even suicide of young people. At one point, he said, he wasn’t convinced that the intent of schools is “always bad” or that schools want to be offensive.

Testimony acknowledged that schools or communities may have originally adopted Native-themed icons or mascots to honor a tribe.  

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln spoke up to say the concerning part is white people appropriating another culture and their sacred tribal symbols.


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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.