Guest Opinions

It’s time for a #BraverBoise, which means dropping a harmful high school mascot

It’s time to change Boise High School’s harmful mascot.
It’s time to change Boise High School’s harmful mascot.

We are very proud Boise High alumni. Our pride for Boise High began before enrollment, when we heard family and friends speak highly of the students, activities and academics. We couldn’t wait to pass through those iconic white columns.

As sophomores, we became the school mascot. We stood by the sidelines of our school’s football team and dressed in indigenous costume to represent Boise High: the “noble warrior,” the Brave.

When we wore the headdress at games and events, we felt like the physical embodiment of the pride and excitement felt for the school and for our friends competing. We look back and are appalled at the normalcy with which all of us approached a dehumanizing practice. While we shouldn’t be surprised that this decades-old practice of “Indian” mascots continues to be normal today, it’s shocking to think of all the time that white people and multimillion-dollar sports franchises have profited off the sale of degrading images of Native Americans.

Boise High has made significant progress in addressing the Brave mascot, but Boise School District spokesman Dan Hollar states that there is “no current plan to completely pivot away from the Braves mascot.” As previous mascots, we are for systemic cultural change at Boise High. We believe this change is urgent.

For Native Americans, the consequences of upholding white stereotypes of indigeneity hurt. The National Congress of American Indians pointedly writes that Native American youths experience the highest rates of suicide in our country. Discriminatory images and stereotypes perpetuated by “Indian” mascots have been documented to negatively affect the self-image of native people. It is naturally upsetting that these images continue to line the walls of a high school that states its belief in “enhancing student self-esteem by celebrating diversity.”

There is an alternative picture for Boise High and its alumni than the imagery we currently uphold: to be a high school at a precarious time in our country’s history that is able to accomplish change where professional sports teams and others cannot. To make the change as proudly and as visibly as we have displayed the Brave as a mascot. To center the indigenous voices of the Kootenai, Kalispel, Coeur d’Alene, Palouse, Nez Perce, Northern Paiute and Shoshone-Bannock tribes, and to honor authentic tradition. To be voices and take action for change on the issues that affect our indigenous populations as much as we want to celebrate in sharing culture.

Boise, we urge you to reject “Indian” mascots. When you find yourself defending the Boise Brave mascot, question that defensiveness and what it stands for. Remember that “because that’s the way it’s always been” and “tradition” are not good reasons to be hurtful. Remember that words and images carry connotations and history, even if our own associations with those words (“brave,” for example) may be positive.

The class of 2019 just graduated. This year, let’s choose a new symbol for Boise High – one that better communicates who we are. Let’s create a school that truly centers indigeneity, that honors the land we are privileged to share and is inclusive of all. The Boise High mascot must change. Rather than our old mantra, “Brave to the grave,” let’s opt for something more representative. It’s time for a #BraverBoise.

Grace Relf and Ezra Hampikian are both 2010 graduates of Boise High School. Relf earned degrees from the University of Delaware and Columbia University, and now works at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy in Washington, D.C. Hampikian is a 2013 graduate of the University of Idaho’s College of Business and Economics. She was the founder of TEDxBoise, and now works as a consultant in Boise.
Related stories from Idaho Statesman