Home of the PHS Indians (Pocatello High School) sign

A sign in front of Pocatello High School that reads, "Home of the PHS Indians." The Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 Board of Trustees voted in favor of retiring the Indians mascot during a meeting Tuesday.

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POCATELLO — It was standing room only during the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday evening, which ushered in the end of a century-plus-long run for the Pocatello High School Indians mascot.

Following about two hours of public testimony from both opponents and proponents of the measure to retire the Indians mascot, the school board voted 5-1 in favor of eliminating the mascot at the end of the school year in June 2021.

About two dozen people spoke during the board meeting, with an even split offering comment for and against the measure.

For those who offered support in regard to retiring the mascot, many said the word "Indians" wasn't nearly as harmful or offensive as watching the Indianettes, the name given to Pocatello High School's drill team, perform the "Traditionals" dance, which typically saw many non-Native female students in sheepskin dresses snapping arrows over their knees.

Members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and current Pocatello High School basketball players used the words embarrassed, ashamed and mocked when describing how the Indianettes' "Traditionals" dance left them feeling during school assemblies.

Others said it wasn't how Pocatello High School students portrayed being an Indian that offended them, but rather the harmful, racist and derogatory assemblies and posters that would arise in other schools prior to athletic competitions against Pocatello High School teams.

Several of the speakers from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes prefaced their public comments by explaining they were direct descendants of Chief Pocatello, whose given Native American name was Tonaioza.

Some of those descendants spoke in favor of Pocatello High School keeping the Indians mascot to preserve the history of the Shoshone-Bannock people and the land that was once theirs. Some of those in favor of keeping the mascot talked about the many blessings the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes have provided Pocatello High School over the years.

Some of the descendants of Chief Pocatello, however, noted that while many say Pocatello High School's Indians mascot was created to honor and respect the Shoshone-Bannock people, there are no plaques adorning the walls of the school that speak to that level of respect, there is no curriculum that teaches the history or language of the Shoshone and Bannock tribes and there has been no effort between School District 25 and the Shoshone-Bannock people to form a lasting relationship.

The overall theme from those who spoke in favor of retiring the Pocatello High School Indians mascot was that people shouldn't be mascots, and that's especially true of schools with a large population of non-Native students using a Native American mascot.

Pocatello High School Principal Lisa Delonas cited research from the American Psychological Association, also known as the APA, in bolstering her appeal to the school board to retire the mascot. She said that the APA found Native American mascots undermine the educational experience of all communities.

Additionally, the APA found that Native American mascots present stereotypes of American Indians and are a form of discrimination that can lead to negative relations between Native and non-Native groups, Delonas said.  

"As professionals, we are bound to recognize and implement the most current and relevant research in order to provide the best education and the best educational environment for our students," Delonas said. "We don’t say, 'In my opinion,' we say, 'Research shows.' Research is a cornerstone of education. On this topic of whether or not to retire the Pocatello Indians name and mascot, the research is compelling. Native American mascots harm Native American students. In fact, they harm other students as well."

Those at the school board meeting who spoke against retiring the mascot brought with them stories about generations and generations of Pocatello High School graduates who would never have garnered the respect they had for Native American peoples had they not been an "Indian" themselves.

Opponents of retiring the mascot spoke about the rich history that Pocatello High School has curated over the 128 years it has graced the Gate City. They expressed fears that such history would be forgotten if the mascot is changed.

Several people in the audience as well as school board members fought back emotion during the three-hour meeting, understanding that the board's decision wouldn't be one of consensus that all parties could support. 

Initially, board member Janie Gebhardt had moved to retire the mascot immediately. But no other board member seconded her motion.

Gebhardt explained during the meeting that she felt it was irresponsible of the board to push the decision back at all, calling Pocatello High School's use of the Indians mascot an injustice.

In the end Gebhardt was the only dissenting vote in the board's eventual decision to retire the Indians mascot effective June 1, 2021.

Prior to casting her vote, board member Jackie Cranor gave an emotional speech in which she mentioned graduating from Pocatello High School and understanding that change was necessary. Though she voted in favor of retiring the mascot, Cranor expressed a sentiment that's likely one many in the community share in that she wished more could have been done between School District 25 and the Shoshone-Bannock people to formulate a strong relationship and find a way to truly make the Indians mascot one of respect and honor.

"I have really appreciated everybody's comments here tonight. It is very touching to me," Cranor said to the audience at Tuesday's meeting. "We can accomplish great things when we work together and I appreciated the tribal members who have come and expressed their viewpoints."

Cranor continued, "I just think it's too bad we couldn't have fixed some of these things before they became so hurtful."

Nonetheless, after over 100 years, Pocatello High School's mascot will no longer be the Indians.

This article originally ran on idahostatejournal.com.

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