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Civil rights lawsuit to be filed against Colorado over passage of Native American mascot bill

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Posted at 8:33 PM, Jun 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-22 08:50:39-04

SOUTHERN COLORADO — A civil rights lawsuit is expected to be filed against Colorado following the passage of SB 21-116 also known as the “Prohibit American Indian Mascots” bill.

The bill prohibits any American Indian Tribe name, symbol, or image in public schools, charter schools, and universities across the state. It also imposes a $25,000 fine for schools that continue to use them past June 1, 2022.

The Native American Guardian’s Association (NAGA) is planning on filing a civil rights lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SB 21-116, including a request for prospective and injunctive relief against the state.

“NAGA believes that it is important for Colorado public schools to teach their students about the proud history of Native Americans, a history shared by all Americans. In NAGA’s view, SB 21- 116 is attempting to eradicate Native American culture from the public view, further consigning Native Americans into historical oblivion," said NAGA Board Member Eunice Davidson.

NAGA is a non-profit organization committed to advocating for increased education about Native Americans, especially in public educational institutions, and greater recognition of Native American Heritage through the high-profile venues of sports and other public platforms.

“Through our strategy of re-appropriation, NAGA helps public schools neutralize offensive American Indian mascots, iconography, and imagery while teaching others about American Indian history. That’s why we intend to fight back against SB 21- 116 in order to re-appropriate our heritage," said Davidson.

According to the organization's legal counsel, the new law violates our First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

"SB 21-116 discriminates against the plaintiffs as a state-sanctioned instrument designed to primarily benefit non-Native American bystanders who are not the target of the legislation and whose only harm is one of being offended by Native American names, logos, and imagery," said Scott Cousins, Cousins Law LLC. “It is our view that SB 21-116 unlawfully restricts plaintiffs’ ability to re-appropriate their heritage by using positive Native American names, logos, and imagery as a means of Native American empowerment and allowing them to educate Colorado public school students as to Native American heritage.”

Cousins says there are large costs in school districts changing Native American imagery and logos.

"Anywhere from $400 to $1,000,000,000 dollars. These school districts that have until June of next year to change their name, change their logos, they're spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to make the change. That's not funded by the state. Our concern is, which is why we'll file an injunction, is that once these changes are made the schools aren't going to change back," said Cousins.

By filing the injunction, Cousins says it will prevent the new law from being enforced by the state.

"It sends signals to the school districts that we're trying to fight. If we win, don't take those steps to change the name and imagery because it might save you a lot of money if we win," said Cousins.

While NAGA states that the new law prevents the education of Native Americans, members of the indigenous community disagree.

"I disagree that mascots and commodified imagery such as logos and mascots for entertainment such as sports are the means that's going to educate other non-Native Americans in a way that is accurate, respectful, and not racist. The public school curriculum is already rife with inaccurate and colonized portrayals of indigenous history and NAGA outright states that they want to partner with schools to develop logos and images, not education or curriculum," said Raven Payment.

She says there is still scientific data that shows that Native American imagery is harmful to their community.

"On top of the scientific studies, more than 1500 native organizations have come forward to ask for a ban on native culture in sports," said Payment.

She's disheartened that the lawsuit may be yet another barrier to get the imagery and logos changed, but she says they'll continue fighting until it's accomplished.