Montrose Indians mascot raises some objections

DENVER — The president of the advisory panel to the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose isn’t too happy with the local high school.

Earlier this month, an unnamed student at Montrose High School painted his face black and red, adorned himself in American Indian headdress and whooped and howled at a basketball game.

The school’s nickname is the Indians.

“We objected to the face painting, the war whooping and any gestures in a warlike manner that made us look like a warlike people,” said Roland McCook, an Uncompahgre Ute who retired to Montrose two years ago. “The name ‘Indian’ is generic, and we don’t have a problem with that as long as they use it in a respectful, positive manner.”

That event and similar incidents around the nation led Sen. Suzanne Williams to introduce a bill into the Colorado Legislature to bar the use of American Indian mascots unless schools first get permission from the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs.

The Aurora Democrat, who is part Comanche, says the practice of using such names as Warriors, Braves or Indians can be done respectfully as long as school mascots aren’t depicted as caricatures with funny-looking noses.

McCook said he is aware of the bill, but added he likely won’t petition the commission to bar Montrose High School from using the name because he prefers to settle issues locally.

He said the school can honor the original natives of the region, but depicting them “in an overly aggressive manner” is not characteristic to their nature.

“The people here are going on radio programs trying to justify the use of the name, with some saying, ‘If you don’t like it, leave,’ ” he said. “Well, I know how that feels. I came back here to live on what was former Ute land and work with the local museum, and I find this going on.”

McCook said more people would understand his objections if some school called its mascot “honkies,” a derogatory term for whites. In 2002, an intramural team in Greeley named itself “The Fightin’ Whities” in protest of nearby Eaton High School’s mascot, “the Fightin’ Reds.”

Linda Gann, director of communications and special projects for the Montrose School District, said school officials are aware of the issue and plan to address it. She said the district has worked with museum officials in the past and has always intended the use of the Indian name to honor American Indians.

“We had discussions many years ago (with museum officials) about how to honor the Native American culture … and we’ve actually been talking with other districts on how they handle this,” she said. “Even before this Senate bill came out, we were interested in making sure we’re being respectful of Native American culture.”

Although the Montrose Daily Press hasn’t written stories about the recent issue, it’s new managing editor, Billie Stanton, wrote a column about the subject earlier this month. That column generated more than 100 comments, primarily from people saying the school shouldn’t consider changing its name because no disrespect was ever intended, and calling Stanton politically correct and an out-of-town liberal.

“They do it in respect and it is showing pride!” one writer said. “It’s silly to want to change the name of the school mascot.”

Some writers attacked the editor for bringing up the issue, including a comment from someone who said he’s the guy who has been dressing as the team’s mascot.

“I think it’s hilarious how much you disrespect our entire student body just now,” Kevin Masterson wrote.

“I am taking this very personal. If coming after a bunch of teenagers about getting excited makes you happy … wow lady. I look forward to having a conversation with you in the near future about my ‘mockery, disrespect’ and all the other crap you made up.”

Montrose is only one of two high schools in the region that use American Indian mascots. The other is Central High School, the Warriors, in Grand Junction.

Jody Diers, Central High’s principal, said she can’t recall a time when officials there received complaints about the use of the name. She said that’s probably because everyone treats it with respect, and understands “the way of the Warrior.”

“No one has ever called me, no one has ever been offended by it in my 10 years at Central High School,” Diers said. “We’ve had education around it, and we talk to kids about what the Indian culture represents. It’s not something that we take lightly.”


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