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Bye-bye Bountiful Braves, hello process to select new, ‘culturally sensitive’ mascot

An entrance at Bountiful High School in Bountiful is pictured on Monday, July 13, 2020.
An entrance at Bountiful High School in Bountiful is pictured on Monday, July 13, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

BOUNTIFUL — Bountiful High School’s Braves mascot will be retired, according to an announcement by Principal Aaron Hogge broadcast on the school’s YouTube channel Monday.

The mascot will remain for the rest of this academic year, with Hogge noting the class of 2021 “will graduate as Braves.”

The school “will begin the process within our school community of selecting a culturally sensitive mascot,” he said.

That process will begin immediately, with the school prepared to accept submissions from students on Tuesday, Hogge said.

“We’ll take the remainder of this school year to go through the process of submissions, whittling that down to a few names and then selecting the mascot,” he said. Then comes the process of creating a logo, signage and other representations ready to unveil by fall 2021. The school’s colors of red and gray will not change, he said

Hogge, whose wife is a Bountiful High graduate, said he has had a connection to the school for 25 years so “it was a very difficult decision” to retire the mascot.

He said he personally loved the imagery of a Native American, “that the bravery, the courage, the strength and what a great way to just rally our students around that. When we found that some of our school community didn’t feel that same way, didn’t feel that they could rally around that mascot, and in fact became a distraction, that was a big concern for me.”

The decision weighed heavily on his mind, he said, but while difficult, it was “one that I think, in the years to come, we’ll find is the right decision and kids will be proud to be part of Bountiful High School. We’re bigger and better than a name,” he said.

Over the decades, the Braves mascot represented courage, strength and bravery that is rich in the Native American culture. But at times, “depictions of Native Americans have crossed the line of cultural respect,” Hogge said during the announcement.

Quoting poet Maya Angelou, he said, “do the best you can, until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

The announcement comes on the final day of National Native Heritage Month, which recognizes the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the United States.

“We will begin the process within our school community of selecting a culturally sensitive mascot that will unite all in unity, respect, honor, courage, bravery and excellence in the classroom and on the stage court or field,” he said.

Hogge came to the decision after months of study, public meetings and private meetings that included seeking the input of representatives of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, current Bountiful High School students, faculty and staff, and community members.

The school conducted two listening sessions in October and has received written comments from the school community and others interested in the issue.

People familiar with the process said the feedback appeared to be split 50-50 on whether to keep the mascot or adopt a new one. The mascot dates back to 1951 and this summer, alumni and others raised concerns that the Braves mascot was culturally insensitive and inappropriate.

A change.org petition started by 2013 Bountiful High School graduate Mallory Rogers has some 6,000 signatures. The petition says the mascot is “offensive, outdated and racist” and calls for a change.

Rogers, reacting to the decision, said “I am so thrilled and grateful that the administration listened.”

She referred reporters to a statement on the Instagram account #changethemascotut that said: “This is the right decision and is justice served for this past wrong.”

It also expressed gratitude for the process used by the the administration to gather information and allow the parties to express their points of view.

“We are especially grateful to the students who stood for justice and equality against the mascot, for their courage and their leadership despite ridicule and persecution. Being truly ‘brave’ means standing up for what is right despite opposition or one’s own fears and worries. These students have demonstrated that bravery,” the statement said in part.

“By changing the mascot at Bountiful High, Native American students are more equal. Their culture, heritage, religious traditions, and history will no longer be grossly misrepresented and systemically mocked or belittled in their learning environment.”

Rogers’ petition described the Bountiful student body “wearing face paint and headdresses while screaming ‘war cries’ at sporting events and assemblies and it is unacceptable. Homecoming parties are called powwows, insensitive chants are used at school events, and tomahawk chops were common practice. These are only a few of the things embedded into the Bountiful High School culture that are inherently racist and unethical.”

The petition notes a shift on the national level with professional teams reevaluating mascots such as the Washington Redskins organization announcement in July to change its team name and logo amid public and corporate pressure to do away with the moniker over racial connotations. It is now known as the Washington Football Team.

Around that time, Bountiful High School announced that as of the start of this school year, no student would appear at athletic events wearing a Native American costume. This had been a longtime practice at football and basketball games.

Hogge, in his fourth year as principal, has slowly moved away from using a Native American male as a logo, shifting to a block B and an arrow or a feather. Earlier this school year, the school painted over several images at the school that depicted Native American figures.

James Singer, a representative of the Utah League of Native American Voters, said he, too, was pleased with the decision and the process that led up to it.

“I feel like everyone got a fair shake from the different perspectives and it allowed us an opportunity to trade ideas and reexamine our value systems. So, I think this is a positive thing for Utah going forward, for the Native American community and for the community of Bountiful. It’s something that they don’t have to wear around their necks anymore,” he said.

The controversy stirred important conversations, he said. “In our culture and our society we often receive traditions without really critically thinking about them, so I’m glad that we had this opportunity to do that,” Singer said.

Legislative resolution

Last week, Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, announced she will carry a nonbinding resolution in the 2021 general session of the Utah Legislature that acknowledges the harm done by using Native American school mascots, urges public schools to retire those mascots, and encourages the State Board of Education and local education agencies to provide instruction in Native American culture and history.

The Native American Mascots and Equality in Public Schools resolution, or NAMES resolution, is still being drafted.

Weight, a Bountiful High alumnus and retired educator, said even in her days as a student 50 years ago she found the mascot “embarrassing” and “uncomfortable.”

On Monday, she expressed pride in her alma mater for “moving in a direction that I think just matches the character of the town and the school.”

Hogge’s statement to the community was “sensitive to both sides” in acknowledging longtime traditions and school pride but also “affirming there are times when we need to make changes.”

“This gives us an opportunity to make a change in a very respectful direction. I just thought the way he framed it was wonderful,” Weight said.

Weight said she plans to continue to carry the resolution as a means of education. She noted that no particular school is named in the legislation, which has not yet been released to the public.

Correction: A previous version said the school’s colors are red and black instead of red and gray.