Thunderdome 2015: Native Americans vs. coaches

“Thunderdome 2015” is The Colorado Independent’s wrap-up series on the 2015 legislative season. For a series overview, check out “Thunderdome 2015: 120 days under the gold dome.”

“The purpose of the bill is to empower the American Indian community in Colorado and let them decide what is and what is not offensive,” Salazar said, introducing his bill to allow members of historic Colorado tribes the right to review and possibly deny the dozens of American Indian-themed mascots emblazoned above public schools across the state.

Sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, put on as big a show as possible with the bill. He brought in national support from folks in the Not Your Mascot movement. He alienated some of his colleagues with a performative effort to equate historically racist and violent terms like “savages” and “redskins” to other racist slurs.

But 150-years after the Sand Creek Massacre, Salazar said the measure wasn’t just about starting a public conversation — which it did, even causing some schools to independently reach out to tribes for consultation.

For him, the measure was intended to un-work a history of state-sponsored racism and genocide by increasing the legal jurisdiction of tribal leaders over their communities’ affairs outside reservations.

Meanwhile, school board members complained that the bill was “steeped in political correctness” and would force them to spend more than $100,000 rebranding their teams instead of improving their already underfunded classrooms.

“The essence of institutionalized racism is that we don’t trust American Indians enough to make decisions about themselves and how they want to be honored,” said Salazar. “That’s the marginalization of communities through institutions … This bill challenges social mores and norms, and we meant for that to happen.”

It was contentious from the start, raising voices and eyebrows and partisan votes right up to its late-night Republican-led kill.


Read “Thunderdome 2015: 120 days under the gold dome,” for the rest of the series. 

Members of the Oglala Lakota on Liberation Day in Whiteclay, NE. Image via DAM Collective.