Kitzhaber vetoes Native American mascot bill

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Gov. John Kitzhaber on Friday vetoed a bill that would have allowed some Oregon schools to keep their mascots, nicknames and logos that depict Native Americans.

The bill would have reversed part of a ban on Native American mascots imposed by the state Board of Education, allowing schools to keep the mascots if they could secure approval from the nearest tribe.

Under the board's ban, eight schools known as the Braves, Indians or Chieftains will have to drop the name by 2017 or risk losing state funding. Seven schools called the Warriors can keep the nickname but cannot have a logo that depicts Native Americans.

Critics of Native American mascots say they reinforce stereotypes and promote hostility.

Supporters say mascots are a source of pride. Requiring schools to work with local tribes would be an opportunity to build trust and understanding, said Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, a Republican from Scio who fought hard to get the bill through the House and Senate and urged Kitzhaber not to veto it.

Sprenger said Friday she was "extremely disappointed with the governor's decision" and would continue working on the issue.

"I was very encouraged when I had conversations with the governor, however once the staff ran interference and I was denied appointments with the governor by the staff, it became very difficult to have those kinds of conversations," Sprenger said.

In a letter announcing his veto, Kitzhaber cited a lack of consensus among tribal members about whether Native American mascots should be allowed. The governor said he's open to a much more limited option that would allow a school to keep a Native American mascot if it was identified with a specific tribe and that tribe authorized it an idea similar to the NCAA's policy that allows the Seminoles at the University of Florida.

However, Kitzhaber's proposed compromise would not allow any of the affected schools in Oregon to keep their mascots or nicknames, because they use the more general terms Braves, Indians and Chieftains.

"I appreciate the sponsors' desire to promote conversations about diversity and inclusion in their local schools," Kitzhaber wrote. "Their intent is sincere, and I share it."

The House and Senate both voted overwhelmingly to ease up on the mascot ban. The issue could re-emerge when lawmakers return to Salem in February.

Since the 1970s, more than 600 high school and college teams across the country have done away with their Native American nicknames, including 20 in Oregon.

In 2006, the Oregon Board of Education adopted a nonbinding recommendation that schools stop using Native mascots. A handful did, but some small communities have resisted.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.