Tribal leaders eye mascot ban, tuition discount

CASPER — Northern Arapaho Business Council leaders Jordan Dresser and Boniface Ridgley traveled June 28 to Colorado to take part in a signing ceremony for laws offering in-state tuition to students enrolled in any of the 48 federally recognized tribes and banning the use of derogatory Native American mascots in K-12 public schools. 

Now, Dresser is hoping Wyoming legislators will take up a similar fight by banning Native American mascots at Wyoming schools and offering discounted tuition to Native American students. 

Maine became the first state to ban Native American mascots in 2019. Colorado has followed suit and six other states are considering similar legislation. 

“I applaud Gov. (Jared) Polis and the Colorado General Assembly for approving legislation banning the derogatory use of American Indian mascots by K-12 public schools,” Dresser said in a news release. “For far too long, our people and culture have been objectified and caricatured as team mascots. It is past time that this practice come to an end.” 

For 30 years, the Northern Arapaho, Ute Nation, and Southern Ute lobbied legislators to ban Native American mascots in public schools, according to the Denver Post. 

“Education is essential to our community and the sovereignty of all Native people,” Ridgley said last week. “I thank Governor Polis and Colorado legislators who’ve taken this important step to improve our access to colleges and universities while simultaneously striking down harmful school mascots that promote racist, derogatory stereotypes against American Indians.” 

At least five high schools in Wyoming still use American Indian mascots or as names for their sports teams. Two of them are on the reservation and have deep ties to the communities there: Wyoming Indian and St. Stephens Indian School. 

“Wyoming Indian, we did that as a community,” Dresser said. “It shows the strength of the community and the tribes.” 

Cheyenne Central’s mascot, however, is an American Indian, and Worland High and Star Valley High both depict an American Indian as the face of their sports teams. 

“They think they’re honoring us, but they’re not,” Dresser said. “It’s 2021; when you use caricatures as Native American Peoples, it’s harmful for individuals.” 

While Wyoming hasn’t banned Native American mascots or offered a discount for Native American college students, Dresser hopes to have similar conversations with Wyoming lawmakers soon. 

“This just shows Colorado’s view on the tribes,” he said. “They’re honoring us by fulfilling a lot of the treaties.”