COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado students, graduates, and a non-profit organization are suing the state over a bill banning Native American mascots.
Senate Bill 116 also known as the “Prohibit American Indian Mascots" bill prohibits the use of Native American mascots, logos, and imagery in public schools, charter schools, and universities.
Two Yuma High School students, a Yuma High School graduate, a Lamar High School Graduate, and the Native American Guardian’s Association (NAGA) are listed as the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
"We decided we had to file, we have to stop this. This is going to cause more genocide of our culture than anything. It's an actual cultural genocide that is happening to us. When you look at who is actually doing this, it's not the American Indians, it's the school boards, non-Indians," said Eunice Davidson, Native American Guardian’s Association (NAGA).
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.
"We are the smallest minority in this country and people need to know about us, who we are, our tribes, customs, and traditions. I just think what is going on is wrong, it's wrong what they are doing to our names and images," said Davidson.
According to the lawsuit, the new law violates two clauses of the fourteenth Amendment. Equal protection of the laws and political process discrimination based on race. It also asserts that the vagueness of the law violates the First Amendment right to petition.
"From a legal perspective, every other racial demographic has the ability to have schools be named after individuals or groups related to that racial demographic. So a school that wants to name itself the Martin Luther King Jr. High School can have an image of Martin Luther King Jr. or have him on their letterhead. That is not true under this law for Native Americans. While it may be we're getting rid of sports team names, this law goes much broader. You couldn't even have Sitting Bull High School or any honorific because this law includes all logos, letterheads related to tribes or individual Native Americans," said William Trachman of Mountain Sales Legal Foundation.
Local Indigenous leaders argue the use of Native American imagery is in no way honoring their heritage.
"The lawsuit comes right out of the gate and starts making examples of other notable people of color. They referenced Martin Luther King Jr., Sonia Maria Sotomayor, Cesar Chavez and how they are schools and public municipal buildings that are named after these incredible people. But what's interesting to me is that they don't move the goal post, these schools that we identified as being derogatory aren't honoring or identifying a specific person or tribe. They are using legitimate slurs and overarching terms that we don't necessarily take as a point of honor when they're levied our way," said Raven Payment, a member of the Indigenous community.
Payment says the terms were given to them in a negative manner by non-natives and reinforced through doctrine and the process of manifest destiny, which was used to eradicate her people.
"While there can be a conversation about the re-appropriation of those terms, I don't think mascots or institutions of education are the places for that to happen... it is heartbreaking to see indigenous youth involved with the lawsuit." said Payment.
She questions the priorities of those involved with the lawsuit.
"Is fighting this mascot issue really what's doing best for both their direct communities of youth and in general surrounding communities. Is this truly what you think is honoring ingenious communities both locally and abroad. I think their priorities are misaligned and they're misguided," said Payment.
Payment says it's heartbreaking to see indigenous youth involved with the lawsuit.
"I want to take those youth and bring them into this wider and broader perspective for them to be a part of and participate," said Payment.
The group plans to file an injunction Friday to halt the implementation of the law. News 5 reached out to the Governor's Office, included in the lawsuit, and they declined to comment on pending litigation. The Attorney General's Office stated they will defend the law, but will not comment any further.