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Utah House slaps down effort to discourage Native American mascots in public schools

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

SALT LAKE CITY — A resolution recognizing the harms of using Native American mascots in Utah public schools and encouraging their retirement was struck down by the Utah House of Representatives on Tuesday.

HCR3 failed on a 27-45 vote, with all nays supplied by Republicans, even though some of the GOP joined Democrats to vote in favor of it.

Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, urged her fellow lawmakers to support the nonbinding resolution, arguing that Native American mascots “often are disrespected.” Weight, a retired schoolteacher, said in her talks with leaders of Utah tribes many told her, “It’s time, time for people to consider retiring those mascots.”

Her resolution would have also encouraged the Utah State Board of Education, school districts and charter schools to provide instruction in Native American culture and history.

But lawmakers including Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, opposed the bill. Lyman argued “there’s not a consensus” on the resolution among the Native American community. He said some appreciate their ancestral symbols being remembered. He argued those symbols are a “great source of pride” for many, and the Utah Legislature should allow them to be celebrated “rather than erasing those things.”

House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, also argued against the bill, questioning why it’s targeted only at K-12 public schools, and not colleges or universities.

Weight pointed out the University of Utah’s Ute mascot is permitted through a contract with the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, so she said that’s a “pretty different situation.” But Gibson questioned why that was acceptable, but not a mascot or a name that’s “adopted” by a local community or high school.

“What about animals that are mascots in schools?” Gibson said. “Should we have PETA arguing for the protection of that as well? I’m not trying to say to compare the two directly, but it’s the concept of how we get a name of a mascot. I just think that if we’re going to adopt this (resolution), we should probably look at all of the universities .... Let’s just be consistent with that argument.”