Boise becomes home of the Brave

Deborah Watts held a picture up to the Boise School District board of trustees on Monday night as she testified against the Boise High mascot.

It was a black and white photo of a white woman in a headdress and a leather costume of a Native American.

It was Watts: the sophomore mascot in the year 1988.

“I loved representing my school and wore this gear proudly. I, now though, look back at this and I’m so saddened.  I wish then that I knew what I know now,” she told the school board. “We now know better.”

In a unanimous vote, the school board agreed.

Trustees voted to change the “Boise Braves” mascot to the “Boise Brave” on Monday night, following two hours of public comment, dozens of testimonies and two standing ovations.

“The adoption of Brave and it’s simple, yet powerful call to action, this is the final step in a multi-year process to move Boise High’s mascot away from a caricature of Native American culture to one that more faithfully represents the school’s vision and core values,” principal Robb Thompson wrote in a news release about the name change.

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Boise High is the second school to remove it’s Native American mascot in a high-profile decision this summer. In July, the Teton School District voted to remove a controversial Redskins mascot amid public outcry.

The Shoshone-Bannock tribes have been outspoken against Native American imagery in schools, calling the use of native mascots “racial misappropriation,” the Idaho Statesman reported.  The tribes urged Teton to drop its mascot, and sent a position paper to the state asking for the removal of all Native American mascots in public schools, the Idaho Statesman reported.

“The people, the schools and institutions who developed these names Savages, Redskins, Braves (and) Indians are perpetuating racism and stereotyping,” the tribes’ position paper said.

Boise High officials have been discussing the issue of using the mascot since at least 2013, principal Robb Thompson told Michael Lycklama of the Statesman. The school has been scaling back on its use of the “Braves” imagery, he wrote, nixing the American Indian-head logo, murals and other memorabilia at the school.

Boise High representatives recently met with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes to discuss a mascot change, officials said. On Monday night, superintendent Coby Dennis said the district is working with the tribes on incorporating Native American history into the district’s curriculum.

Norm and Antoinette Cavanaugh, who are of Western Shoshone heritage, came to Boise from their home in Horseshoe Bend, Nevada, for Monday’s district meeting. Both spoke up.

“I am a Native American, and do I look like a mascot?” Cavanaugh asked the crowd.

“No,” came the replies.

“I want to thank you for the courage,” Cavanaugh told the crowd. “Maybe you can call yourself the brave ones for attempting to make this change — or making this change.”

Most of the audience, including students, district employees and alumni spoke in favor of the mascot change. Only a few dissented, one calling for the use of a “calvary” mascot instead, one asking the school to keep the mascot but fundraise for the tribes, and another saying that the mascot change was discriminatory.

“I think the Sho-Ban’s notion of racial misappropriation is horribly wrong and very shortsighted,” said Mark Rinehart, of Boise. “It is very discriminatory by allowing some schools to retain their name and logo while requiring other schools to completely replace their name and logo.”

Ultimately, the decision swayed in favor of the majority — a bunch whose presence was announced by white T-shirts with the red words #bebrave on the chest.  Thompson said the shirts were made by the Boise Public School District Foundation and payed for by a donor. They were up for grabs on a table outside the public meeting.

Watts wore one of those shirts on Monday night — a much different kind of uniform than donned for Boise High 31 years ago. This uniform was a symbol of protest against that costume, and a motion of support for Boise High’s new mascot.

“Any time a group of people get together, do the brave thing, do the right thing, it’s a day for celebration,” Watts said after the meeting.

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