State Lawmaker Wants To Protect Use Of Native American Mascots. But He Didn't Ask Utah's Tribes. | KUER 90.1

State Lawmaker Wants To Protect Use Of Native American Mascots. But He Didn't Ask Utah's Tribes.

Jan 24, 2020

CEDAR CITY — A Utah lawmaker is catching heat over a proposed resolution that discourages abandoning the use of Native American names, images and symbols.

Tribal leaders across the state are speaking out against the resolution, saying it would make it more difficult for their communities to push back against offensive mascots and other derisive characterizations of Native Americans and their cultures. 

Representatives from the Navajo Nation, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah and the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation will hold a rally at the Utah Capitol Saturday, requesting that the resolution be withdrawn.

Rep. Rex Shipp, R-Cedar City, introduced House Joint Resolution 10 on Jan. 14. Its purpose is two-fold: first, to support “appropriate” use of Native American likenesses or references; and second, to discourage schools and other places from removing them unless local governments determine there is consensus among affected tribes that the uses are offensive and should be removed.

But in an ironic twist, Utah’s tribal leaders say nobody asked them about whether they were on board.

“He didn’t reach out to any tribal community,” said Tamra Borchardt-Slayton, the chairperson of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, which is also based in Cedar City and opposes the resolution. 

She added that Shipp didn’t reach out to her or any of the state’s other seven tribal leaders before introducing the legislation.

Shipp confirmed this but said he spoke with some tribal individuals.

“I have done some outreach,” he said. “In retrospect, maybe I should have done more of that, but I still feel like this is a good resolution.” 

Shipp also spoke to a national group, the Native American Guardian’s Association — the only Native American organization named in the legislation.

In a February 2019 statement, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah made clear that the association in no way represents the views of the tribe.

“We do not view this group as a credible group to advocate on behalf of our tribe and actively encourage the public to disregard any statements made by NAGA regarding the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah,” the statement said. 

The tribe released the statement in the midst of a controversy surrounding Cedar High School’s former “Redmen” mascot, which the board of the Iron County School District voted to retire in 2019.

Darren Parry, the chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone, said he questions the lawmaker’s commitment to working with tribal communities. 

“The fact that he has not reached out to his neighbor, the tribal chairwoman in Cedar City, should tell you volumes about what you need to know,” he said.

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George. Follow David on Twitter @davidmfuchs