Eaton High School's Indian mascot is displayed prominently on the gym floor. 

(Courtesy Cameron Moser)

A commission set up by Gov. John Hickenlooper is strongly urging the elimination of derogatory and offensive Indian mascots and imagery in Colorado's public schools. But it favors action based on building relationships with Indian tribes rather than legislation.

An estimated 30 Colorado schools have Indian mascots. The commission, which spent five months looking into the controversy, recommended that those schools host public forums to review their use. 

"There should be a public forum to reexamine the purpose of their mascot, how it originated in an honest and productive way, that’s where things start," said Jeff Rasp,  co-chair of the commission and a principal at Strasburg High School. 

From the report:

Racial stereotypes, positive or negative, can play an important role in shaping adolescent consciousness. As a consequence, inauthentic behavior displayed in schools with American Indian mascots, by making an absurd misrepresentation of American Indian cultural identity, causes many young Native people to feel shame about who they are.

Rasp's own school, whose nickname is "The Indians," was among four visited by the commission. The others were Loveland (Indians), Lamar (Savages), and Eaton (Reds). Strasburg has entered into a relationship with the Arapaho tribe and commissioned a new depiction. As a result, the school will start the process of taking down offensive mascots. 

Commission members said the slower process of education and partnerships lays the groundwork for a much stronger chance of succeeding than requiring schools to change through legislation. 

Rasp said that, "In our opinion, treating Americans respectfully far supersedes local traditions."

Hickenlooper welcomed the commission's findings.

"Once children begin to see the reality of how offensive this is and how harmful some of these names and imagery are, and they start talking about it, in all but a few of the cases, the parents, the rest of the community will follow," the governor said.

William Mendoza, executive director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education said the recommendations are consistent with the concerns raised by native youth across the country, who are calling upon education decision-makers to address the imagery.

“Something problematic happens when you involve the issue of fanaticism fans in extracurricular activities," he said of school sports mascots. "It’s difficult to navigate. It dabbles between art and expression and certainly involves tremendous passion. I can see why the commission has come to the conclusion that the strongest recommendation is for everyone to reassess using human beings using mascots and logos.”