Friday, December 28, 2007

Fantastic Letter in the Democrat-Herald

My family points me to this letter on the topic of Native American mascots in schools - and particularly Lebanon. The author, Bob Zybach of Foster, Oregon, also responds to LHS student Miranda Gestrin's Young Voices column on the same topic.


As contrast, the Indian “chief” used to represent Lebanon teams is a “Native American” that apparently represents all native non-white male warring people in North America prior to the use of automobiles (ca. 1890s). How does that possibly “honor” an entire continent of thousands of tribes and nations and millions of people? The women, children, and elderly? The peacemakers among them?

Lebanon was populated by Santiam Kalapuya and Santiam Molalla during early Oregon history. Neither nation owned or used horses, or developed any particular reputation as “warriors.” They were known as peaceful people with no history of warfare or horse ownership. They wore waterproof woven cedar caps, not feathers, on their heads.

Kalapuyans were largely agrarian, raising vast amounts of labor-intensive camas, white acorns, and tarweed seed every year. Molallan men were known as highly successful elk hunters (they had dogs, but no horses), and Molallan women harvested mountain huckleberries and beargrass for trade in the summer. The so-called “Warrior” is more representative of South Dakota or Arizona, perhaps, and for a very brief period of time.

Exactly - the Lebanon mascot is not a historical representation of a specific Native American. It's a representation of what some white people thought would be a good mascot. That is a large part of why it's offensive and insulting. It's just not true. Claiming that one's intent is pure doesn't change that fact.

That was the big thing I wanted to highlight from the letter, but there was one other thing Zybach says that is worth noting:

Do any of the teachers or administrators at Lebanon High School even know the basic history of their community or of Oregon?

I have no idea how many teachers know the history of Lebanon or of Oregon. What I do know is that there's no real place in the high school curriculum for this sort of hyperlocal knowledge, and I think that gap is a holdover from a time when people learned about local history from other sources - the church, the family, etc. That is no longer the case, and I think a class, or even a section in a class, on the history of Lebanon and the local area (especially the Native tribes who once used this land) would be incredibly useful, and if done right, incredibly interesting.

Paging Mr. Winters....


Anonymous said...


Dennis said...

Yes, of course (from what I saw, that class was fantastically done) ....except that last I heard, that class won't be offered again anytime soon.

I'm thinking of something that will be taught to all students.

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