HB 1147: Bordeaux Proposes Statewide Ban on Racist School Sports Team Names

Rep. Shawn Bordeaux (D-26A/Mission) has a good idea: ban racist school team names!

House Bill 1147, introduced Thursday by Senator Bordeaux and four other Democratic colleagues from heavily Indian districts, would empower the South Dakota High School Activities Association to act on complaints about racially offensive school mascots and nicknames, like the “Redmen” from Sisseston and Woonsocket. HB 1147 says the SDHSAA must consult with tribal officials, and if tribal officials say the name is offensive, it’s gone. The bill specifies no penalty, and it even cuts schools some slack by letting them continue to use uniforms, signs, and other materials they’ve already purchased with the offensive names or symbols, as long as they buy no more such offensive materials after the SDHSAA’s ruling.

HB 1147 predicates this ban on the following findings:

  1. The use of racially derogatory or discriminatory school or athletic team names, mascots, or nicknames in public schools in South Dakota is antithetical to the Legislature’s constitutional duty to provide a uniform system of public schools that is equally open to all;
  2. Certain athletic team names, mascots, and nicknames that have been used and remain in use by other teams, including school teams, in other parts of the nation are discriminatory in singling out the Native American community for the derision to which mascots or nicknames are often subjected;
  3. Many individuals and organizations interested and experienced in human relations, including the United States Commission on Civil Rights, have concluded that the use of Native American images and names in school sports is a barrier to equality and understanding, and that all residents of the United States would benefit from the discontinuance of their use; and
  4. No individual or school has a cognizable interest in retaining a racially derogatory or discriminatory school or athletic team name, mascot, or nickname [Section 1, House Bill 1147, introduced 2016.01.28].

The above statements are all moral, logical, and rooted in the same sociological research that is motivating the SDHSAA to consider a resolution merely encouraging its schools to do away with racist team names. There is a 90% chance the Republican majority will reject those statements and the policy action of House Bill 1147, for two main reasons

  1. Lee Schoenbeck’s Republican caucus can’t stand the state Board on Geographic Names discussing culturally offensive place names without the Legislature’s okey-dokey (see HB 1060). They don’t want any more discussion of names that offend Indians.
  2. The Republicans hate the SDHSAA. They don’t like SDHSAA being considerate to transgender students; they’re in no mood to give SDHSAA more power to be considerate to Indians.

Maybe the Republicans will surprise us and admit that labeling sports teams with outdated, insensitive, racially charged languages is all harm with no benefit. But when this bill goes to House Education, expect at least nine nays from Republicans who don’t want to bring South Dakota into the 21st century.

23 Responses to HB 1147: Bordeaux Proposes Statewide Ban on Racist School Sports Team Names

  1. mike from iowa

    is antithetical to the Legislature’s constitutional duty to provide a uniform system of public schools that is equally open to all;

    Does this include trans-gendered students and their pee-pees?

  2. Roger Cornelius

    Watch for rednecks to come out in full force against 1147.

  3. Isn’t it time to respect all of South Dakota’s diverse people?

  4. Steve Hickey

    Easy aye vote for me. My only concern is this kind of thing needs to proceed from the thorough work of a reconciliation commission and fit into a bigger strategy for reconciliation. Without that I’m afraid the committee hearing will be Cowboys outnumbering Indians and arrows going one way and Gatling guns pointed back at them.

  5. Douglas Wiken

    I really don’t understand why any school would want to have a mascot or a team name that has anything to do with Native Americans or their stone-age culture. Give them what they want as quickly as possible.

  6. I understand why cultures that perseverd through centuries of survival are attractive and often honorable – especially in the light of the rampant broken treaties and policies of extermination. For one small example – look at the public forests in the US: those managed the best hands down by professional managers assessments are those forests managed by tribes. There is much we should learn and assimilate in the tribes seven-generation view of life and resource use. (The tribes didn’t wipe out the bison or any other creature of which are are aware.) Similarly, we “honor” the “stone-aged” “heathen” Vikings, yet no white rises in protest – which they should, over the clownish depiction of horned helmets which Vikings never wore. However the Vikings had a proud exploration/trade history that spanned the Nordic to Russia to the Mediterranian to North America.

    Yet I hope the good representatives advancing this bill and their tribes that support it also have a place in their hearts for allowing honoring of their culture and name(s) by others – such as is the case with the Florida Seminoles. While the Seminoles are “big money” college as opposed to a tiny high school, as I understand it a fair share of royalites, etc., of use of the name and logo go to the tribe.

    The issue appears as honor; not caricature. Unable to acheive the former, then change the name.

  7. Yes, let us start with abolishing the Viking football names. Everybody should use an animal or a color or a kind of a rock as their school mascot name. An if the HSUS complains on behalf of some animals I say we create a board to study the issue.

  8. Mr. Wiken has a point I don’t agree with. He wants to eliminate all references to the Indian culture, which is what will start to happen when we ban all the pictures and the signs on the North Dakota roads and such.

  9. Hickey rather than stupid comments like our lone racist wiken in the dem party makes, think about compromise and your voiced support for this bill in light of all the water dems are carrying on your 36% petition.

  10. Roger Cornelius

    Ah Crap!!!

    Doug Wiken is still alive!

  11. Porter Lansing

    The Vikings never lost a war to Minnesota. Native Americans lost wars to USA and somehow that makes their heritage fair game for exploitation and appropriation? No it doesn’t~!! A proper example would be if the Vietnamese soccer team used an image of a forlorn USA POW as their logo and called their team the “Sniveling Whiteys”. That might relay a tiny taste of the loss of self esteem young Native kids feel.
    Don’t believe me? Read this … http://www.argusleader.com/story/opinion/voices/2016/01/31/voice-native-american-mascots-ok/79608778/?hootPostID=6e97cb7529aab03b42ed2a8719928c8d

  12. Wiken is alive and well and, on this issue, still wrong. We can find shame in every fallible person and in every flawed culture. Let’s not be distracted by Wiken’s attempt to changing names into a backhanded insult. Let’s focus on the intent of the Bordeaux bill, to make schools stop adopting names that many of our neighbors find insulting.

  13. Porter: creative Vietnamese example. The flaw in the gentleman’s Argus argument is the absolutionist argument that, by logical extension, bar the name, “The Fighting Irish” – when a glance at the roster reveals not all team members have Irish heritage. Neither do all from a SF HS knights team or have the heritage from knights. The objective distinguishing from honor and caricature is real and fundamental. Many will cloud it with absolutionist emotionalism leading to a none of the above solution. A none of the above solution is better than caricature and stereotyping – yet we can and should do better than that. We can and should honor many of our imperfect human forebearers as a higher tradition than say, the scoopers, ducks, beavers, tigers, broncos (or other non-native specie), etc. One can hardly fault a society or culture for staking an abosolutionist position given centuries of oppression. I merely ask they/we find honor where intended: and that is certainly not in the redskins, redmen, scalpers, – all present or former SD team names, etc. Not many folks objectively find a loss of self esteem in the light of the Florida Seminoles or the Fighting Irish or even the Vikings (sans the cartoonish faux helmet horns). There is and can be an honor in a lineage, an imperfect human lineage – our collective challenge as objective inclusive adults is to find it.

  14. Porter Lansing

    My Native American friends have a simple directive which they have a right to. “Nothing about us without our permission … ever.” After hundreds of years of oppression they have a right to rebuild their culture as they see fit. We have no business trying to honor them because we try to honor them only as we would honor ourselves. That’s elitist and ignorant and assumes white people are superior.

  15. So who decides what tribal officials get to determine if a name is offensive? The fact is, the Sisseton school board had met with tribal officials in their area several years back and the Tribal President at the time indicated there was no problem. Yet this still doesn’t appease some Native Americans in the area and if they are represented as part of a separate tribe does that indicate their voice doesn’t matter? Or can any tribe from any part of the state speak up and voice objection to a name used in any other part of the state?

    I do have a bit of a problem with allowing one body to make such concrete decisions, because although some names are clearly offensive (Redskins etc.) there may be other examples where a name in itself is innocent but some can and do perceive it as an insult (the Washington or Winner “Warriors” come to mind). So if five years down the road you get some new tribal leadership that says they feel the name Warriors is offensive to them – that automatically means the name is gone with no discussion or debate? Same holds true for the Wagner Red Raiders – why is a “Redmen” offensive while a “Red Raider” is not?

    What if one tribe feels the logo used by the Pine Ridge school is offensive (they have an image of a Chief). Is there any recourse for one tribe to dispute a demand from another tribe?

    Then of course you get into the discussion about what might be offensive to other races. The Platte-Geddes team has the mascot “Black Panthers”, so could some African American students be offended? Does their voice not matter? It might be a stretch, but what if these same African American students are offended by the “Knights” used by O’Gorman in thinking it is a subtle reference to the KKK? Again – this proposed law doesn’t give them a voice because it is just a kneejerk reaction to a few isolated events that happened to get some press coverage. Those who drafted the legislation aren’t considering all of their constituants and instead of focused upon one area.

    I’d much rather see a situation where we don’t create such strict rules because each situation is unique. You can always find someone or a group of someones who is legitimately offended by anything, and although many time those feelings need to be acknowledged, in some cases it is simply impossible to not offend someone, somewhere.

    Why can’t we use the town of McLaughlin as an example of how this should work? They were contacted by a group representing little people and told their mascot name “Midgets” was offensive. They had some internal discussions and opted to change the name because when they evaluated it they realized that although it isn’t offensive to everyone and perhaps not even ever little person, it was deemed offensive to a sufficient number of people to warrant the change.

    So shouldn’t the SDHSAA have a process in place to evaludate such mascots and names without the need for legislation which would be far more restrictive? I think we need to keep in mind that some cities identify with their schools and their team names. There may be history involved with the name or things an outsider doesn’t understand. Granted that shouldn’t be used as justification to use a racist or harmful logo or mascot, but we should have a policy in place that considers all the factors before ruling as opposed to a law that simply says party A is offended and thus party B has to immediately change.

  16. Bill Dithmer

    Craig, be careful, its clear thinking like that your speaking of which causes most of the people posting here to get their panties in a wad.

    The Blindman

  17. John Derby

    What about the tribal schools? There’s a bit of hypocrisy here with this piece of legislation. This bill is flawed! In addition, the state has no jurisdiction on the reservations! This should be a local school board decision. SDHSAA is an organization that needs to make sure that Indian referees are allowed to ref games off the reservation which is not always the case. As far as public schools are concerned we need input from the local Indian community not the SDHSAA regarding team names, mascots, and related matters. There is a wide range of diverse Indian opinions in the local communities. SDHSAA did a very poor job of obtaining input from the local Indian communities.

  18. Porter Lansing

    Perfect insight, Mr. Derby ✯✯✯✯✯

  19. If the Native American schools want to use Native American nicknames, so be it. It’s their right. There are plenty of other nicknames the white schools can use. We white people have no right to nickname our schools with Native American names. “Whiney White Cracker Honkies” for a Native American school would be just as offensive to (most of) us as the Native American nicknames we’ve labeled our schools with. This is 2016, not 1938. Time to put the big boy/girl panties on and be respectful of our diversity.

  20. Porter Lansing

    Hear, hear Ms. May. Well composed. ✯✯✯✯✯

  21. Ms. May – what you propose appears logical, but Sisseton is one example used every time this topic surfaces, and Sisseton is located on a reservation. The demographics of the school as cited within their district profile show us that over half of the students are Native American.


    So when the majority of the school consists of Native American students and the school sits in a recognized reservation… do we still call it a “white” school? Who gets to decide if using the term “Redmen” is offensive if the study body and administration wish to continue using it? You might be aware that the protests against the name Redmen and the logo (they don’t use an Indian mascot) didn’t come from within Sisseton but rather came from Tiospa Zina. So should those concerns be ignored?

    As you can see this is a more complex issue than some recognize. If the studies are to believed, then usage of Native American mascots and logos is hurtful to Native American students in all contexts and it shouldn’t matter where that logo might be used (whether a “white” school, or an “Indian” school) because the harm would be the same. But is that really the case if the students admire and respect the mascot or logo or if they have a sense of pride associated with it?

    Wish I had all the answers.

  22. *study = student

  23. Craig, thank you for your input, clarity, and statistical evidence. I certainly don’t have the answers, either. Maybe it should be up to each school and let the students vote on whether they want to continue to use the mascot or not. The student body changes each year, of course – more Kindergartners coming in, students graduating. Maybe it can be something that’s voted on in, say, 2016, then revisited every 10 or 15 years. (I’m just throwing numbers out there for conversation purposes. I chose 10-15 years so that the basketball/football/volleyball/etc. uniforms don’t have to be changed yearly!) This might be a better resolution than allowing the SDHSAA make the decision. It would also give the students, say grades 7-12, invest in their school by choosing their own mascot. I don’t know. I don’t know who would know. I just understand that it’s insensitive to keep doing things that offend a large part of our population.