Boise High grads support changing Braves mascot
After nearly 100 years as the Boise Braves, Boise High School will have a new mascot for the upcoming school year.
Boise High will drop the “s” from its nickname and refer to itself as the “Brave” in the 2019-20 school year, which starts next week.
The school board for the Boise School District unanimously approved the plan Monday and received a standing ovation from an overflowing board room packed with more than 100 residents.
“This is a pretty easy decision for me, and a long time coming,” board member Dennis Doan said before the vote.
The change follows Teton High School’s decision to retire its Redskins name in July and comes with the support of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, which has asked the state government to ban all Native American mascots and wrote a letter to the Boise School District on Monday lauding its work.
“We appreciate your sincere consideration of our request to change offensive names and use of inappropriate images,” Shoshone-Bannock Chairman Ladd Edmo wrote. “... We look forward to dispelling the confusion, the misleading and inaccurate interpretations of local tribal history, government and cultural beliefs that the Boise community may have of the tribes.”
Monday’s public testimony overwhelmingly supported retiring the mascot. Twenty-seven community members testified at the board meeting Monday, with 24 speaking in favor of the change, two against it and one suggesting an alternative mascot.
Comments before the board meeting were also 5-to-1 in favor of the change, said Debbie Donovan, the director for the Boise High quadrant in the school district.
“To be brave is a character trait and not a cultural or ethnic caricature,” Boise High principal Robb Thompson said during his public testimony. “... Our request is not to erase history. On the contrary, we have looked to and studied our past and hope to inform and guide Boise High’s future.”
Boise High will host a student contest to design a new logo. Thompson said he’d like to select a winner a week or two after school starts and have a T-shirt with that logo in the hands of every student before Boise’s homecoming football game Sept. 26 against Skyview.
A parent group has volunteered to pay for the shirts, Thompson said.
The Idaho Statesman first revealed Boise High’s plan to change its Native American mascot earlier this month. After years of internal debate on campus, Thompson reached out to the Shoshone-Bannock tribe this summer for their perspective on the school’s nickname and imagery.
In a June letter to the school district, Edmo wrote that the Boise Valley’s original inhabitants — the Shoshone, Bannock and Paiute tribes — do not view the mascot in a positive light.
He wrote the term “Brave” comes from white settlers’ descriptions of the Native Americans they hunted. He described a U.S. Army prison camp for American Indians near Lucky Peak, the forced removal of Boise Valley Native Americans to reservations, and Boise newspapers publishing bounties of $50 for Indian “bucks” and $25 for women and children.
“It is not ‘honoring’ the perception of proud, brave Indian warriors to dress in Halloween-type costumes. It is disrespectful,” Edmo wrote. “What it is honoring is the demeaning, white privilege ideology created by dominant white society, who killed, removed or demoralized the Indian residents who lived in this area.”
Antoinette Cavanaugh, a member of the Shoshone-Paiute tribe on the Duck Valley Reservation, told the board how her great-grandparents were marched out of the Boise Valley by the U.S. military. She said she wanted to attend Monday’s meeting to remind the district leadership the original inhabitants of the Boise Valley are still around.
“To be honest with you, we have not had a voice in many forums,” Cavanaugh said in an interview with the Idaho Statesman. “The tribes feel the indigenous people were removed. It was a strategy to limit their voice.”
The 1983 Boise State graduate who did her student teaching at West Junior High said she supports more schools changing their Native American mascots.
“Originally, people thought it was OK to not treat indigenous people as human beings,” Cavanaugh said. “They murdered them. They massacred them. They hunted them down. They had these caricatures of indigenous people as either warriors or braves or chiefs or whatever. It was OK. It was accepted.
“No indigenous people felt they had the right to speak out against it, and I think that is changing over time.”
Boise High has moved away from its depictions of Native Americans in the past decade. It stopped using a mascot dressed in stereotypical Native American clothing and painted over a mural of a red-skinned man in a loincloth clutching a tomahawk and a knife in 2016. It has also stopped using an Indian head logo and removed a costume war bonnet from a display case.
Thompson said the Shoshone-Bannock tribe informed him this summer none of those images would resemble a Native American from Idaho.
Even after the changes, the mascot has remained a controversial topic. Thompson said a former Boise High volleyball player who was Native American saw a sign at an opposing high school that read, “Scalp those Braves.” And two former Boise High mascots and 2010 graduates called for the school to fully retire the Braves mascot in a May guest editorial for the Idaho Statesman.
Two more former mascots spoke in favor of changing the mascot Monday. Deborah Watts, a 1990 Boise High graduate, held aloft a black-and-white picture of herself in a stereotypical headdress and Indian costume as she spoke to the board.
“I loved representing my school and wore this gear proudly,” Watts said. “Now though, I look back at this and am so saddened because I wish I knew then what I know now.
“There is a reason this costume was retired years ago. … The reason for that is we now know better. It’s the same reason that Braves need to be retired. We know better. And when we know better, we do better.
“The indigenous people of this area find it offensive, so it is. Period.”
Tara Sahli, a 2016 graduate, said she was the final mascot to wear the costume during her senior year. She said she realizes she failed her school and classmates by previously supporting it.
“I didn’t recognize how the cultural representation I portrayed could have hurt people and what it means to so many communities and individuals,” Sahli said. “I was willfully ignorant.
“I chose to ignore those who told me they were hurt by my actions. I had been handed a narrative that was passed on to many of us that this couldn’t possibly be harming anyone. But I would never look at someone I love and say I didn’t believe they were hurt by my actions. So why do we do that to the people of our home?”