The Braves mascot has served Boise High School since at least the 1920s. But the school’s leadership wants to change that nickname to one more respectful of Native Americans, possibly as early as this fall.
Boise High officials told the Idaho Statesman they will present a plan to change the school’s mascot from the “Braves” to the “Brave” at the next school board meeting at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at the District Services Center.
Using the adjective form of Brave would preserve many of the traditions and values Boise High has taught for more than a century. It also would allow the school to finish its move away from the Native American imagery one Idaho tribe has described as disrespectful.
Boise High principal Robb Thompson said he would like to have the singular Brave nickname in place for the 2019-20 school year, which starts Aug. 19. But he added the full process of changing uniforms and removing all current Native American imagery on campus — from uniforms to signs to decorations — likely would take three to five years.
“Schools, much like other public institutions and places of learning, evolve and change over time,” Thompson said. “We don’t teach the same curriculum in 2019-20 that we taught in 1921. Our understanding of the world is much different than it was 100 years ago, and the needs of our students are much different than it was 100 years ago.”
The proposed mascot change comes during a summer when the use of Native American mascots has stirred controversy around the state.
The school board for Teton High School voted to retire its Redskins mascot in July after years of debate but hasn’t set a date to end it use. And the Shoshone-Bannock tribes submitted a position paper to the Idaho State Board of Education in June calling for the state government to ban the use of all Native American mascots in high schools.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE BOISE BRAVES?
The Redskin name comes with a clear dictionary definition as a disparaging and offensive word. Braves holds a more complicated history.
Supporters may say they are honoring Native Americans with their depictions of them as Braves. But Ladd Edmo, the chairman of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, wrote in a letter to the Boise School District that the tribe doesn’t view the word in a positive light.
Boise High reached out to the Shoshone-Bannock tribes this summer asking their opinion on the Braves mascot.
“The concept of honoring the ‘Native American warrior ethic of bravery,’ is based on a misunderstanding of why Indians were ‘brave,’ ” Edmo wrote in the letter, provided to the Idaho Statesman by the Boise School District. “(It is) because white Americans were actively hunting Indians, to the point that the U.S. Army had to imprison the Indians for ‘safekeeping’ from white settlers.
“Boise newspapers announced that Indian bounties would pay $50 for Indian ‘bucks’ and $25 for Indian women and children. This was the reason for the establishment of the U.S. Army Indian prison camp in the Lucky Peak area, and the forced removal of the Boise Valley Indians to the Fort Hall Reservation. This is the Idaho and tribal history that is missing from public school history curriculum.”
After learning the tribes’ perspective on the word, Thompson said it became hard to justify the stance that Boise High honored Native Americans by referring to itself as the Braves.
Thompson also learned during a meeting with the tribes that none of the previous American Indian-head logos the school used would have resembled a Shoshone-Bannock tribal member.
“They don’t even have a word (for Braves) in their language,” Thompson said. “That’s our word that we put on them. And then we took this imagery and associated it with them. That imagery is not accurate.
“So in many regards, we completely missed the boat, even if we were trying to honor them. And it’s not incumbent upon us to tell them how they should feel.”
WHY CHANGE THE MASCOT NOW?
Momentum to change Idaho’s Native American mascots picked up steam this summer. But the debate over the use of Braves is nothing new in the halls of Boise High.
Thompson said his first introduction to the issue came on Nov. 8, 2013. The school had retired its mascot dressed in an American Indian costume by then, but a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes emailed the then-assistant principal detailing the school’s troublesome use of Native American language and imagery.
In the past decade, the school has moved away from Native American depictions. It no longer uses an American Indian-head logo. It removed a costume war bonnet from a display case. It retired a Native American spirit stick. And it painted over a mural of a red-skinned Native American in a loincloth clutching a tomahawk and a knife in 2016.
But a mosaic in the floor of a school hallway and rocks with old logos still decorate the campus, and the mascot issue continues to pop up at the Downtown Boise high school. Thompson said students have written their senior paper on the mascot. And opposition to the nickname doesn’t just come from Native American students.
“In an educational institution, we should be welcoming of all cultures,” district spokesman Dan Hollar said. “We feel a direct obligation to do that every day.”
Two former mascots and 2010 graduates of Boise High called for the school to abandon the Braves name in May in a guest editorial for the Idaho Statesman. Ezra Hampikian, one of the co-authors, said Friday she would support any change that came with the backing of Idaho tribes.
“It should happen,” she said. “If our tribes are asking for that, we should honor and respect the cultures we claim to respect.”
Officials from Boise High, the Boise School District and the school board met with the Shoshone-Bannock tribes on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation on Thursday to discuss the Braves mascot.
Thompson said the tribe supported the change to the singular Brave. Randy’L Teton, a spokeswoman for the tribes, said the tribes had not formulated an official response as of Friday evening.
Thompson also presented the plan this week to the school’s faculty, the student council and a parent advisory board. He said all three groups unanimously supported the mascot change.
“It’s really important in this whole process to acknowledge that what we’re not looking at doing going forward is erasing the past history of Boise High School,” Thompson said. “That all happened. And everybody who has attended and graduated from Boise High School between 1923 and 2019 and referred to themselves as Boise Braves will always be able to do so.”
HISTORY OF THE BRAVES MASCOT
Founded in 1881, the Boise School District and its original Central School predate Idaho’s statehood, which didn’t come until 1890.
Schools typically didn’t start adopting mascots until the 20th century. The first mention of the Boise High Braves in the Idaho Statesman came in a 1908 recap of a football game against the Payette Melon Rollers.
The Idaho Statesman began regularly referring to Boise High as the Braves in 1921. And the mascot first appeared in Boise High’s yearbooks in 1923, Thompson said.
Native Americans didn’t earn full U.S. citizenship until 1924 when President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act.
WHY THE BRAVE?
Thompson said Boise doesn’t have to look any further than the founding of the school for inspiration for a nickname. Written above the columns on the original building are four values the school was founded on: temperance, justice, wisdom and courage.
“The virtue of courage stands out to us,” Thompson said. “And so, when we talk about what it means to be brave — not to be a Brave — but to be brave, we kind of rooted in that civic virtue of courage.”
Boise has moved to use Brave as an adjective in recent years, awarding “#BeBrave” T-shirts to students and having students end the daily announcements with a call to “Be Brave.”
Brave even would fit into the school’s unofficial slogan of “Brave to the Grave,” and the tradition of shouting the word “brave” in unison in the final line of the national anthem. (“... And the home, of the, brave.”)
During a revamp of the school’s mission statement and core values last year, Thompson said the Native American mascot never came up. Instead, students developed an acronym for the word brave that stood for the values they’d like to see the school live up to, including balance, resilience, acceptance, valor and engagement.
“The word ‘brave’ to us is a character trait and not a caricature, as represented there,” Thompson said, referencing old Boise High logos.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
If the board passes Boise High’s plan, Thompson said he would like to implement it this school year. Boise would hold a student logo design contest over the first week or two of school. And Boise’s parent board has volunteered to buy every student a T-shirt with the new logo.
That’s if the board approves the plan. Debbie Donovan, the director for the Boise High quadrant in the Boise School District, said she’s heard little pushback against changing the Braves mascot so far. She encouraged patrons to reach out to her, the school board or Coby Dennis, the new district superintendent.
Hollar added that the public is also welcome to testify at the school board meeting.